A Win for Bristol Bay is
a Win for All of Us
In August 2020 the EPA made a decision that impacts millions of people, whether directly or indirectly, and most have never heard of it. Their decision was to reverse the previous 2014 EPA findings that the Pebble Mine project in Bristol Bay, AK posed no major environmental risk to the Bristol Bay watershed.
This announcement resulted in a large outcry from many on both sides of the political aisle. Many questions were raised given that 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. Not only is it a domestic resource that supports local and indigenous communities but it 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.”
Risking Bristol Bay means risking the loss of all these benefits as well as hurting the worldwide economy. Impacting industries from commercial fishing, to tourism, to restaurants throughout the globe, the potential loss can’t be fully understood.
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.
This is a major win for protecting 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 that 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. Wild Salmon Center has also called on the administration and has even presented a two-prong proposal that would work with the EPA under the Clean Water Act to restrict mining in Bristol Bay and create a path for Congress to take action by establishing a national fisheries area, securing protection for the watershed for years to come.