EPA proposes protecting Bristol Bay from the Pebble mine
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EPA proposes protecting Bristol Bay from the Pebble mine

Sockeye salmon in Bristol Bay. Photo by Todd Radenbough

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a revised proposed determination under the Clean Water Act Section 404(c) that would prohibit and restrict the use of some Bristol Bay waterways as disposal sites for mining dredge and fill materials.

If finalized, this determination would essentially block the proposed Pebble mine and restrict mining of the entire Pebble deposit.

“We’re delighted to see the EPA taking action to protect Bristol Bay from large scale industrial mining,” said Katie Strong, senior staff attorney with Trustees for Alaska. “There’re still a few  steps ahead in the process and we hope EPA will move quickly. The science is unequivocal that any industrial mining in Bristol Bay will cause unacceptable adverse effects to the watershed, salmon runs, and Bristol Bay communities.”

From the EPA’s revised proposed determination.

EPA release proposal to protect Bristol Bay

EPA’s new proposal to protect Bristol Bay evaluates Pebble’s 2020 mine plan, which was rejected by the Army Corps of Engineers. Grounded in science, EPA’s proposal seeks to prohibit the type of mine proposed by Pebble or any future mines that would have similar impacts.

EPA noted in its press release that its determination finds “that the discharge of dredged or fill material associated with mining the Pebble Deposit could result in unacceptable adverse effects on salmon fishery areas in certain waters within the Bristol Bay watershed. One example of an adverse impact is the permanent loss of 8.5 miles of streams, which would result in fish displacement, injury, and death.”

Bristol Bay leaders responded positively to the news and urged the agency to finalize protections this year.

“As stewards of these lands and waters since time immemorial, our people welcome this step towards permanent protections for our waters and way of life,” said Alannah Hurley, executive director of United Tribes of Bristol Bay in a joint press release. “It’s clear the science supports the need for our region’s headwaters to be protected from a mine like Pebble’s impacts, at the site and downstream. We appreciate EPA’s efforts to address the threat Pebble poses to our lands, waters and way of life in Bristol Bay, and hope to see the agency finalize strong protections this year.”

Alaskans, make yourself heard

Alaska has seen a proposed determination stall out before. The 2014 proposal was never finalized and later illegally withdrawn by the Trump administration. The ongoing threat from the proposed Pebble mine has forced people in the region to for nearly two decades expend an enormous amount of time, money, energy and more to protect their homes and ways of life.

Pebble is an unwelcome guest. It’s time to get protections in place and send Pebble home.

Alaskans have made so many comments about the proposed Pebble mine that it can feel senseless to do it again. But please do. It will make a huge difference that’s key to the future of Bristol Bay and Alaska.

The EPA Region 10 comment period for the revised proposed determination will include public hearings and written submissions through July 5.

Scheduled hearings include one in Dillingham from 9 am to noon on June 16; online from 5 to 8 pm June 16; and in Newhalen from noon to 2 pm June 17.

For more information, visit www.epa.gov/bristolbay.  You can also take action now through Cook Inletkeeper.