Earthworks Stands with Bristol Bay Alaska to Sue EPA for Abandoning Clean Water Protections for World’s Largest Wild Salmon Fishery

Earthworks is proud to stand today with Bristol Bay communities in challenging the Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to abandon protections for Alaska’s Bristol Bay and the world’s largest wild salmon fishery on behalf of the proposed Pebble Mine.

The Bristol Bay salmon fishery, which topped 56 million this year, is a phenomenally productive ecosystem that supports 14,000 jobs, generates $1.5 billion in annual revenue and sustains Alaska native communities that rely on the fishery for their cultural and economic well-being.

Today’s lawsuit charges that the EPA broke the law when it withdrew a 2014 Proposed Determination calling for protections for Bristol Bay, Alaska that limit the amount of mine waste that can be dumped in Bristol Bay waters. The proposed protections came on the heels of  EPA’s scientific assessment that determined the construction of a large-scale mine in the area would result in lasting harm to the salmon fishery.

Without providing any scientific basis for reversing course, the EPA announced it would abandon protections for the Bristol Bay watershed in July – a reversal that occurred after President Trump met with Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy, a proponent of the mine.

The EPA’s decision to abandon protections for the world’s largest wild salmon fishery on behalf of the Pebble mine is an appalling example of politics over science. We know of no other mine that will have such devastating consequences for clean water.  Even Pebble’s 20-year “smaller” mine plan will:

  • destroy 80 miles of streams and 3500 acres of wetlands,
  • create a pit lake filled with 60 billion gallons of highly toxic wastewater and
  • generate water pollution in perpetuity.

Today’s litigation comes weeks after Sen. Lisa Murkowski expressed concerns over the scientific and technical deficiencies in the Army Corps’ draft environmental impact statement for Pebble. As chair of a subcommittee, she supported an appropriations bill that encourages agencies to use their enforcement authorities to protect Bristol Bay if the Army Corps fails to fix the flaws and gaps in its analysis.

It’s hard to imagine a more irresponsible resource extraction project than Pebble, and a mine that runs so counter to the interests of our country.

The Bristol Bay salmon fishery is a sustainable and renewable resource, whereas, the Pebble deposit is a nonrenewable resource. The ore from the Pebble mine will be shipped overseas to Asia, the profits will go to a foreign mining company, while the severe and lasting impacts stay here.  In contrast, if the clean water and wild salmon habitat of the Bristol Bay watershed are protected, the salmon fishery can continue to feed our nation and power our economy forever.  Perpetual pollution or perpetual salmon?  An easy choice.