Protections for Bristol Bay back on track

Photo by Fly Out Media

On Friday of last week, the U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska overturned the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) 2019 decision to withdraw the Bristol Bay 404(c) Proposed Determination, putting back in place science-based limits on large mine waste in the headwaters of Bristol Bay.  

This victory concludes a two-year-long lawsuit by Trout Unlimited and comes in the wake of a recent ruling in favor of TU by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. At the time of the final ruling, TU was the sole remaining plaintiff in the case. The organization was represented pro bono by Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton LLP. Read the 2 page court order here.

Today’s decision gets us back on track to finalizing protections for Bristol Bay’s headwaters and its world-class fisheries. As the science has shown time and time again, large-scale mining in the Bristol Bay headwaters would be catastrophic to the region’s fisheries, its economy, and its vibrant cultures. We look forward to working with the EPA to finalize these protections that are so critical to so many people.

Austin Williams, Alaska legal and policy director for Trout Unlimited

The Proposed Determination safeguards the Bristol Bay region and its world-class fisheries from large-scale mining operations like the proposed Pebble mine by placing reasonable limits on how much impact mining can have on salmon streams and wetlands. These limits were proposed in 2014 after years of scientific research, multiple peer reviews, and with the support of millions of Americans. The EPA’s decision to withdraw these safeguards in 2019 ignored the overwhelming weight of its own scientists and experts, which was our primary reason for filing the initial lawsuit.   

Check out the infographic included in this post for a complete history of Trout Unlimited’s lawsuit against EPA.

The ruling is a massive step in the right direction towards getting Bristol Bay the permanent protection it needs and deserves. While the EPA has not released a timeline for finalizing the Proposed Determination through Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act, Trout Unlimited and Bristol Bay supporters will engage heavily in the process to ensure that the best available science, and the voices of local people and business owners in Bristol Bay guide the final determination.  

Even though TU has prevailed in the lawsuit, our work is far from over. We will continue to work with the EPA to finalize Clean Water Act protections, work with Congress to get legislation permanently protecting the Bristol Bay region’s world-class waters and fish, and do everything we can to ensure the people, fish, and fish-based economy in southwest Alaska is safe.  

By Meghan Barker.