Bristol Bay, Alaska© Ben Knight

EPA Bows to Politics on Pebble

EPA Bows to Politics on Pebble

Agency political appointees withdraw proposed Bristol Bay protections, which had been requested by Alaskans and supported by a million American citizens.

This week, as the salmon harvest in Bristol Bay approached an all-time record, the fight to defend this singular place on Earth suffered a serious blow. Political appointees at the Environmental Protection Agency announced they are withdrawing proposed Clean Water Act safeguards for Bristol Bay. This decision ignores science, the rights of sovereign Alaska Native tribes, and runs roughshod over governmental checks and balances, all in favor of a foreign company that wishes to construct the toxic, open pit Pebble Mine in the region’s headwaters. 

On Tuesday morning, July 30, EPA Region 10 Administrator Chris Hladlick signed a 28-page notice at the direction of agency appointees that formally removes proposed protective standards for Bristol Bay initiated by the EPA in 2014 under the Obama Administration at the request of six Bristol Bay tribes.

LATEST: How Politics Dictated EPA’s reversal on Pebble, from CNN.

Bristol Bay Basin Map
© Wild Salmon Center

Between 2010 and 2014, EPA undertook an exhaustive study of the potential impacts of mining on the waters and fisheries of Bristol Bay. The study went through several drafts, two rounds of independent peer review, and multiple rounds of community hearings and public comment. In total more than a million comments were generated, with the majority signaling support for protecting Bristol Bay. EPA’s work culminated in 2014 with a set of proposed standards that could have protected Bristol Bay from the threat of the Pebble Mine.

These protections were never finalized due to legal action by Pebble’s Canadian parent company. After a friendly legal settlement with the Trump Administration, Pebble has spent heavily on lobbyists in Washington, DC over the last few years to bend the mine permitting process its way. These investments are paying off. As Wild Salmon Center and others have documented, political appointees at EPA and other agencies have carried out questionable actions in the company’s interest — all to pave the way for Pebble. 

Tuesday’s decision follows suit. It also flies in the face of criticism of the mine from staff at the EPA and other agencies. Over the past few weeks, Pebble’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement has come under considerable fire. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service went so far as to write that the DEIS is: “so inadequate that it precludes meaningful analysis.” EPA staff also issued a highly critical review of the DEIS, noting a laundry list of inadequacies and failures. 

Members of the coalition to protect Bristol Bay from United Tribes of Bristol Bay to Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay have roundly expressed their displeasure with the EPA’s latest decision. But they’ve vowed to collectively continue the fight to protect the world’s greatest sockeye salmon fishery. Wild Salmon Center will fight right alongside them, supporting the coalition’s hard work and making sure the voices of Alaskans and their allies across the country are heard.

Bristol Bay Smokehouse
Bristol Bay’s annual salmon migration provides essential dietary protein for Alaka Native communities, as well as the world | © Ben Knight

You can join them, by letting your representatives in Washington know you don’t abide by this decision, let alone a toxic mine in Bristol Bay.    

>>Send a message to your representative here.

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