EPA takes further action to protect Bristol Bay
Efforts to protect the Bristol Bay watershed from potential mining pollution that would affect the world’s largest wild sockeye run are back in the spotlight, with the Environmental Protection Agency seeking to ensure a long term solution.
“The Bristol Bay Watershed is an Alaskan treasure that underscores the critical value of drinking water in America,” said EPA administrator Michael D. Regan, who announced Sept. that the EPA would restart the process of creating a Clean Water Act, Section 404. c) determination to protect certain waters of Bristol Bay. “What is at stake is preventing pollution that would disproportionately impact Alaskan natives and protecting a sustainable future for North America’s most productive salmon fishery.”
Bristol Bay supports commercial, subsistence and recreational fisheries worth hundreds of millions of dollars each year and creating thousands of jobs, and this fishery has supported a subsistence way of life for Alaska Natives for over 4,000 years old, the EPA said.
The Clean Water Act generally requires a Section 404 permit from the US Army Corps of Engineers to allow the dumping of dredged or fill material into certain streams, wetlands, lakes, and ponds. Section 404 directs the EPA to develop the environmental criteria used in making permitting decisions. Under the Trump administration, the EPA issued a notice in July 2019 withdrawing its 2014 Section 404 (c) Determination Proposal, an action ending the Bristol Bay review process.
The EPA’s new announcement comes on the heels of a Ninth Circuit Court ruling that disposing of mine waste in a federally protected waterway would not have an unacceptable negative impact. If the court grants the Department of Justice the request to remand and set aside the 2019 takedown notice, the 404 (c) review process will be reset,
The policy change now sought by the EPA would impact the efforts of Pebble Limited Partnership in Anchorage, a subsidiary of Northern Dynasty Minerals in Vancouver, B.C., to build and operate a large copper, gold mine. and molybdenum contiguous to the watershed.
Northern Dynasty Minerals is a subsidiary of Hunter Dickinson Inc., a diversified global mining group also based in Vancouver, British Columbia. The Canadian mining company has spent millions of dollars over more than a decade on exploration and planning to build and operate the mine, and on numerous legal battles. They vigorously argue that they can build and operate the mine in harmony with the fishery. Opponents of the mine have vigorously contested this argument.
When the EPA announced its intention to use the Clean Water Act to protect the watershed
Northern Dynasty President and CEO Ron Thiessen said “it is unfortunate that politics continue to interfere with scientific evidence.”
“Under President Joe Biden, we again find ourselves faced with Obama-era policies that were inappropriate then and are inappropriate now. Ultimately, science and facts trump political pressure and disinformation, ”said Thiessen, who predicted that efforts to kill the project would fail again.
Robert Heyano, President of United Tribes of Bristol Bay, hailed the EPA’s decision as “a historic step forward in the long struggle to protect Bristol Bay, our fishery and our people.
“The people of Bristol Bay rely on the EPA to listen to the science and finish the job of protecting our lands and waters,” Heyano said,
Katherine Carscallen, Executive Director of Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay, called this “a pivotal moment for Bristol Bay fishermen.” “Our decades-long local efforts to permanently protect Bristol Bay, our thriving commercial fishery and our Pebble Mine communities are finally back on track,” she said.
“We encourage the Biden administration to finish the job and finalize the section 404 (c) protections of the Clean Water Act for Bristol Bay, ensuring that the world’s largest wild salmon fishery and its 15,000 traditional salmon-based jobs and lifestyles are no longer threatened by the proposed Pebble mine, ”said Tim Bristol, Executive Director of SalmonState.
Nelli Williams, Alaska director for Trout Unlimited, praised the EPA’s action, saying now is the time “to get these much-needed protections across the finish line.”
“This news is a welcome step towards certainty for our fisheries and our communities,” said Norm Van Vactor, CEO of Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp. in Dillingham.
Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy meanwhile sharply criticized the EPA’s efforts, calling it another attempt to stifle the state’s natural resource-based economy, which would result in a loss of money. jobs, income and economic prosperity for the state.
Deantha Skibinski, executive director of the Alaska Miners Association, said the EPA’s decision was further proof that the Biden administration did not want Alaska to have its own sustainable economy. “As the legislature seeks solutions for new revenue, the federal government is moving to remove hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of state assets from the Alaskan table,” he said. she declared.
The Resource Development Council and the Alaska Oil and Gas Association also criticized the EPA’s decision. “The last thing the industry needs is more reviews, more taxes or more regulations,” said Kara Moriarty, president and CEO of the oil and gas association.