In it for the long haul

For the past decade or so, I have had the pleasure of visiting and fishing Bristol Bay for salmon and (very large) native rainbows. Lodge-owners, commercial fishermen, people from the native villages, and guides all impressed upon me the importance of protecting this remarkable $1.6 billion fishery that supplies half of all of the world’s wild sockeye salmon, and nearly 12,000 jobs.

Within a few days, we’re likely to get our first glimpse of how the Trump Administration will deal with Bristol Bay and the proposed Pebble Mine. It is an opportunity for the Administration and the EPA to stand with Alaskans and defend high-paying, family wage jobs in the sport and commercial fishing industries not to mention the families that depend on the fishery for sustenance. What we cannot allow is the construction of a massive, open pit mine, complete with the industrialization of the landscape and several-mile-long earthen dam to be built in a seismically active area.

For more than a decade, the Pebble Partnership has engaged in a campaign to coerce local Alaskans, anglers and hunters into acquiescing to its plans to build the Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay. Since at least 2004, Northern Dynasty, the sole remaining “partner” in the Pebble Partnership (the other major investors having determined the project too risky), has promised to apply for its necessary permits and initiate a full review of its proposed mine. After countless delays and the senior Senator from Alaska, Lisa Murkowski, calling for the partnership to release their mining plan four years ago, local opposition to the mine continues to grow. Northern Dynasty has yet to file a permit.

In 2010 an unlikely coalition of Alaska Natives, commercial fishermen and sportsmen called on EPA to use its authority under the Clean Water Act and help protect Bristol Bay. More than 99 percent of the comments received by the EPA—a staggering 1.6 million comments—were in support of protecting Bristol Bay. More than 65 percent of Alaskans and more than 80 percent of Bristol Bay residents oppose the mine.

In 2014 when the EPA was on the verge of finalizing new protections for Bristol Bay, Northern Dynasty hired a phalanx of lawyers and lobbyists, initiated a string of lawsuits against the EPA, and served scores of subpoenas on Alaskan individuals and organizations, including TU, in an attempt to steamroll local opposition. We beat back the subpoenas and the one resolved lawsuit was dismissed in our favor, but it now appears that the Trump administration is poised to announce a settlement with Northern Dynasty.

The campaign to protect Bristol Bay is made-in-Alaska, and Alaskans overwhelmingly recognize that industrializing the Bristol Bay watershed with the Pebble Mine is a short-sighted and bad idea, and we remain dedicated to defending Bristol Bay’s world-class fisheries.

— Chris Wood

 

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