Community Conservation TROUT Magazine

EPA leaves Bristol Bay an open target

By: Meghan Barker. All photos by Tim Romano

Just weeks after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released comments critical of Pebble’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement, the key document in the federal mine permitting process, the agency today withdrew the 2014 Proposed Determination.  

 What is the Proposed Determination? 

If finalized, it would have safeguarded Bristol Bay from the proposed Pebble mine and other large-scale industrial development by limiting the amount of mine waste that could be disposed of in Bristol Bay’s rivers and wetlands. These limits were made after the EPA found a mine like Pebble would have “significant” and potentially “catastrophic” impacts on the Bristol Bay watershed. 

 How was the Proposed Determination created? 

The Proposed Determination was released in July, 2014 after the EPA extensively analyzed the Bristol Bay Watershed and the effects of large-scale mining in the Pebble deposit area. Tribes, communities, fishermen and businesses of Bristol Bay requested the EPA undergo the process, and the Agency conducted a three-year, twice-peer reviewed scientific assessment to reach their findings.

Over 1.5 million comments were submitted across the country on the proposal, 85.9% of which were in support of strong protections for Bristol Bay. 

The protections in the Proposed Determination are the reason most people thought Pebble mine was dead. Now, those protections are gone.

Tim Romano

 Trout Unlimited called the move a “fundamentally boneheaded decision” and promises to look at all options—including litigation—to protect Bristol Bay from large-scale industrial mining. Please consider a donation to advance TU’s work in Bristol Bay.  Through the end of the year, your gift will be matched.

 Trout Unlimited is far from the only one calling out the EPA for their poor decision. In fact, Scott Pruitt, the original Trump-era EPA Administrator held a similar belief. He said, with respect to retaining the Proposed Determination:  

“… It is my judgment at this time that any mining projects in the region likely pose a risk to the abundant natural resources that exist there. Until we know the full extent of that risk, those natural resources and world-class fisheries deserve the utmost protection.” 

Scott Pruitt, Former U.S. EPA Administrator, Jan. 2018

 Our friends from the region also had a lot to say about this news. 

This summer, the Bristol Bay fishery has been breaking records, while Washington, D.C. bureaucrats are working at recording-breaking speeds to dismantle the protections that would help ensure our salmon continue to feed the world for years to come. It is time for our elected leaders to hold federal agencies accountable for the work they are doing and put people, science and the environment that our children will inherit, ahead of politics.  

Norm Van Vactor, Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation. (See more quotes from the region here)

Withdrawing an action that would have protected the rivers and wetlands that dozens of businesses depend on hinders American jobs and economic growth and is an attack on hardworking families. 

Brian Kraft, president, Katmai Service Providers and owner, Alaska Sportsman’s Lodge 

This action directly undermines Alaskan businesses like mine and favors a foreign mining company. It is absurd that the 404(c) action, that was widely supported by so many Americans, is being walked back for such baseless reasons. Now, more than ever, is time for Alaska’s elected officials to stand up for the families and communities that are out here and make sure the resources we depend on are around in the future.

Nanci Morris Lyon, owner, Bear Trail Lodge

I just wrapped up one of the better seasons of my fishing career; Bristol Bay’s salmon fishery is stronger than ever. The EPA’s decision to ignore its own science and risk Bristol Bay’s entire fishing industry is pure politics. This decision is simply wrong.

Alexus Kwachka, Bristol Bay fisherman in Dillingham, Alaska
Tim Romano

Despite the EPA submitting scathing comments on the inadequacies of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement less than one month ago, the move to withdraw the Proposed Determination is a purely political decision that ignores science, public opinion, the best interest of thousands of people, and robust fish-based economies in southwest Alaska.  

Take action today by contacting your elected representatives and telling them that you stand with the people, fish, and businesses in Bristol Bay, and oppose the withdraw of Proposed Determination. Then, consider making a donation to the campaign.  

We have lots of work to do – but we aren’t going anywhere until this area’s incredible resources have the protections it deserves.  

By Jenny Weis.