Trout Unlimited today released a statement directed at the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee that is considering three bills this week aimed at derailing a transparent, science-based process that could lead to the protection of the irreplaceable Bristol Bay watershed from the world’s largest open-pit mine, as well as stopping efforts to protect headwater streams that feed into America’s great rivers. Here is TU’s statement:
Trout Unlimited and anglers across America strongly oppose the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s ill-conceived markup of the inappropriately named “Regulatory Certainty Act,” HR 4854, scheduled for Wednesday morning, because the bill would prevent the EPA from carrying out its statutory obligation to protect the world class fisheries of Bristol Bay, Alaska.
The poorly conceived bill has had no legislative hearings. The oversight hearing on EPA’s 404(c) authority that the committee’s Water Resources Subcommittee will hold Tuesday of this week will have no Alaskan witnesses from Bristol Bay, the people most adversely affected by this bill. It is truly astonishing that the very committee which gave birth to the nation’s most important natural resources law, the Clean Water Act, would now turn its back on communities who depend on clean water most for their livelihoods and survival.
The Bristol Bay region of Alaska is threatened by one of the most potentially damaging mines ever proposed in the United States. At the urging of Alaska native communities, commercial and sport fishing industries, and with the support of a majority of Alaskans, EPA has moved forward with a science-based, inclusive, transparent 404(c) process, which, if implemented, should protect headwaters of an area that sees an annual run of 40 million salmon, one of the largest intact runs in the world. In fact Bristol Bay provides half of the world's wild sockeye salmon catch. The Bristol Bay fishery is worth in excess of $1.5 billion per year. It will provide certainty to the 14,000 fishing and processing jobs in the region, which generate $250 million in seafood exports alone from the region, as well as lodge owners, and Alaskan natives who depend on the fishery.
The committee is moving to pass the legislation while most of Bristol Bay’s fishermen are out on the water fishing, taking advantage of the small, three-month fishing window they have to pursue their livelihoods. While the Bristol Bay fishermen harvest salmon, the committee plans to give Pebble Limited Partnership a gift-wrapped present, HR 4854, rewarding its inexplicable and inexcusable failure to submit a permit application after eight years of promising to do so. PLP has lost most of its financial backing because of the inherent risks of the proposed mine, and its many failures to produce a viable mining plan. But now the House T and I Committee is rushing to take up PLP’s beleaguered cause. The committee's action runs counter to the needs and desires of commercial and sport fishermen, the local people and the will of the people of Alaska.
The committee’s Wednesday assault on the Clean Water Act will also feature a new bill that amounts to another attack on the recent Army Corps of Engineers/EPA proposal to protect headwater streams and wetlands, as well as another new bill to allow states to overturn other EPA Clean Water Act decisions. The mark up will be a trifecta of bad water bills. Implementation of the new Corps/EPA proposal is especially important to fishermen and women across the nation because it would reinstate protections for headwater streams and some wetlands that were in place for the first 30 years of the CWA before two Supreme Court decisions in the 2000s created uncertainty about those protections. Despite their small size, these waters are critical to healthy fisheries and quality fishing, as well as downstream water quality.
There are still two days for the committee to see the mistakes it is making, postpone the markup, and take a critical look at the damage its bills would cause. Trout Unlimited joins with the millions of anglers across America, and urges the committee to postpone the markup and to reconsider the many flaws of HR 4854 and the other bills on its docket.