Conservation Community Science

On behalf of Bristol Bay, we're headed to court

Today, Trout Unlimited announced that we are suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over their decision to withdraw protections for Bristol Bay that were established in the 2014 Bristol Bay Proposed Determination. These protections would have limited how much the proposed Pebble mine would be allowed to impact the world-class salmon and water resources of the region. 

 The lawsuit follows an announcement by Bristol Bay Tribes and organizations yesterday filing a similar suit. The groups allege that the EPA broke the law when it ignored science and the potential impacts of developing the mine when it withdrew the Proposed Determination. (If you’re rusty, we’ve included *Proposed Determination 101 below!) 

There is no reason for the EPA to remove the Proposed Determination other than to help Pebble secure its key permit. This is unacceptable, and Trout Unlimited is calling them out for it. 

“The practical effect of the EPA’s decision was to help out a mine that would devastate a fishing and hunting paradise,” said John Holman, who grew up in the area and is a second-generation owner of No See Um Lodge, a Trout Unlimited member business. “I cannot in good faith pass a business down to my family that will become a financial burden if the Pebble mine is built. Who does our government work for? This decision made it seem like the EPA and our elected officials are writing off thousands of American jobs, and businesses like mine so a foreign mining company can obliterate the land I depend on, then walk away.”

Trout Unlimited CEO Chris Wood came out strong, standing with Holman, as well as other Bristol Bay business leaders, members and advocates for the recreational fishery. “Billions of dollars have been spent in attempt to restore salmon runs in the Pacific Northwest. Meanwhile, Bristol Bay sets records for its salmon returns year after year. All we need to do is have the humility and common-sense to leave this landscape alone. Sacrificing a place as such as Bristol Bay for some gold is a short-sighted fools-errand. We are not a litigious organization, but we and millions of other sportsmen and women will not allow greed to compromise the most important salmon fishery on the planet.” 

Earlier this summer, we learned that EPA scientists supported keeping the Proposed Determination, but – thanks to Pebble’s multi-million-dollar D.C. lobbying efforts – were steamrolled by political staffers within the agency who directed them to withdraw the widely supported Proposed Determination.  

“Any action that jeopardizes this fishery and extremely unique place is unacceptable,” said Nelli Williams, Alaska director for Trout Unlimited. “The proposed Pebble mine is widely opposed by anglers and hunters across Alaska and the country. This lawsuit is a step to hold the EPA accountable to their own science and American sportsmen and women, not a foreign-owned mining company.” 

“Look at what’s at stake and the maddening progress Pebble is making here at our expense,” said Nanci Morris Lyon, local resident and owner of Bear Trail Lodge, a Trout Unlimited member business. “Contrary to science, the will of the people, and common sense, Pebble is advancing toward their key permit, thanks in part to agencies giving them handouts. This lawsuit calls that out. We can’t afford Pebble in Bristol Bay, and that means we need science, oversight, integrity and persistence.” 

The Army Corps of Engineers, the EPA, and Pebble need to be held accountable. With your help, we will continue to advocate for strong science to be prioritized throughout this process because we know that Pebble mine cannot withstand scientific scrutiny and cannot coexist safely with the fishery.  

Alaskans have repeatedly called out the permitting agency for their wholly inadequate evaluation of the impacts of this project and the threats it brings to Bristol Bay. Our elected officials have taken steps in the right direction to ensure that a science-based and robust permit review process is restored. And now, we will call on the court to restore order to a process that has been driven off the tracks by a foreign mining company that if not stopped, will ruin the best wild salmon fishery in North America.  

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*Proposed Determination 101 

What is the Proposed Determination?  

If finalized, the Proposed Determination 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 the Pebble mine was dead. Now, those protections are gone. 

By Meghan Barker.