A Win for Bristol Bay is
a Win for All of Us
In August 2020 the EPA made a decision that potentially impacts millions, and most have never heard of it. Their decision reversed previous 2014 EPA findings that concluded the Pebble Mine project posed an environmental risk to the valuable Bristol Bay watershed in Alaska.
The announcement resulted in a large outcry from many on both sides of the political aisle. Notably, this led to numerous questions being raised by key players from businesses to politicians. Especially since the Draft Environmental Impact Statement suggests that Phase 1 of the proposed Pebble Mine would potentially “destroy more than 80 miles of streams and 3,500 acres of wetlands, lead to large amounts of waste that would require continuous treatment, and would also lay a natural gas pipeline under Alaska’s largest freshwater lake, Iliamna Lake.”
Why is this important?
The Bristol Bay watershed is home to one of the world’s largest sustainable and renewable resources for salmon. Additionally, the watershed is a domestic resource that supports local and indigenous communities and also “supplies roughly 50% of the world’s commercial supply of wild sockeye salmon.” The benefits of the watershed include an economic contribution “worth $2.2 billion annually, supporting 15,000 commercial fishing jobs, subsistence foods for 31 Alaska Native Tribes, and a globally renowned trout and salmon sportfishery.”
Unquestionably, we can see that risking Bristol Bay means risking the loss of these benefits. In a similar fashion, it risks damaging the worldwide economy. The impact on industries from commercial fishing to tourism, to restaurants throughout the globe is an immeasurable loss.
Recent Wins Have Delayed Development
In November 2020, after a bipartisan effort from many prominent officials, local indigenous associations, and advocacy from organizations like the Wild Salmon Center and American Rivers, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers put a temporary hold on the issue by denying Pebble Mine’s permit application.
Altogether this is a major win to protect Bristol Bay, but it is not a permanent fix. Currently, Pebble is working on appealing this decision and the fight is far from over.
“Pebble officials insist they are not quitting. Therefore, we need to be clear that we’re not backing down, either. We need to ensure that Bristol Bay is protected and the threat of Pebble is fully extinguished.”Emily Anderson, Wild Salmon Center’s Alaska Director
In December 2020, core Tribal and leadership organizations, which include United Tribes of Bristol Bay, Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation, and Bristol Bay Native Association, called on the incoming administration to make permanent changes that will protect the area. The Wild Salmon Center has also called on the administration and has even presented a two-prong proposal. It would work with the EPA under the Clean Water Act to restrict mining in the area. Furthermore, it would create a path for Congress to take action by establishing a national fisheries area. This would secure protection for the watershed for years to come.