Today, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took the first step to reinstate proposed protections for Bristol Bay. The decision deals another blow to Pebble Mine and its parent company. The announcement also comes after a recent Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision that ruled in favor of Trout Unlimited, finding Pebble would have an unacceptable adverse effect.
Pebble will probably continue to fester, but today’s decision makes it much more difficult for the mine to break ground. Further, the decision validates the cultural, ecological, and economical value of Bristol Bay, which has supported tribal communities for centuries and produces half the world’s sockeye salmon.
The EPA plans to reinstate proposed protections in the region through the Clean Water Act’s 404(c) process, which regulates the discharge of dredged or fill material into waters of the United States, a crucial activity for mining. Pebble failed to meet the EPA’s standard and now does not have the necessary permits. In technical terms, the EPA is initiating the process of withdrawing the 2019 determination that eliminated Bristol Bay’s protections and reinstating the 2014 determination and, thus, protections.
“The Bristol Bay Watershed is an Alaskan treasure that underscores the critical value of clean water in America,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “Today’s announcement reinforces once again EPA’s commitment to making science-based decisions to protect our natural environment. What’s at stake is preventing pollution that would disproportionately impact Alaska Natives, and protecting a sustainable future for the most productive salmon fishery in North America.”
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“This is a smart and significant step toward putting more durable safeguards in place for Bristol Bay’s fish, clean water, communities and businesses,” said Nelli Williams, Alaska director for Trout Unlimited. “This is an important layer of protection that makes it much more difficult for the Pebble Partnership, or any other companies in the future, to mine the Pebble ore deposit. Now is the time to get these much-needed protections across the finish line, and we look forward to working with EPA and Congress to get it done. Let’s put the Pebble mine proposal in the review mirror for good so we can focus on a bright, prosperous and fish-filled future for Bristol Bay.”
Durable protections are now needed to put a definitive end to Pebble Mine and protect Bristol Bay for the long haul. That ball is now in Congress’ court. Alaskan Senator Lisa Murkowski has floated “the idea of passing legislation to put Bristol Bay off limits to development, in exchange for compensation the federal government would provide Alaska for potentially lost revenue.” A bipartisan deal to permanently protect Bristol Bay, sure sounds great, and would fulfill the campaign promise of then-candidate Joe Biden to “listen to the scientists and experts to protect Bristol Bay–and all it offers to Alaska, our country, and the world.” Let’s hope permanent protections for Bristol Bay happen.
Cover picture courtesy of @FlyOutMedia