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Initiates Clean Water Act process to protect world's greatest wild salmon fishery!

It’s a great day! Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it is using its authority under the Clean Water Act to consider options for protecting the world’s largest wild salmon fishery in Alaska’s Bristol Bay from the proposed Pebble Mine.

The EPA is initiating a review process under Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act, which authorizes the agency to restrict or prohibit mine waste disposal in the rivers, streams or wetlands that feed Bristol Bay to safeguard the salmon fishery. During the review, the EPA will rely heavily on its peer-reviewed scientific assessment of the impacts of large-scale mining in the Bristol Bay watershed, which was released in January 2014.

Today’s action is not a final decision to block the mine, but it does put on hold any attempts to build the mine until the process is complete.  The EPA has gone through this review process 29 times in the history of the Clean Water Act, and moved forward with restrictions in 13 cases.

There are several steps in the Clean Water Act Section 404(c) review process, and public involvement opportunities are part of the process:

  • Step 1 – Consultation period with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and owners of the site, initiated today.
  • Step 2 – Publication of Proposed Determination, including proposed prohibitions or restrictions on mining the Pebble deposit, in the Federal Register for public comment and one or more public hearings.
  • Step 3 – Review of public comments and development of Recommended Determination by EPA Regional Administrator to Assistant Administrator for Water at EPA Headquarters in Washington, DC.
  • Step 4 – Second consultation period with the Army Corps and site owners and development of Final Determination by Assistant Administrator for Water, including any final prohibitions or restrictions on mining the Pebble deposit.

There is enormous public support for the EPA to initiate this process and to protect the Bristol Bay fishery, including Alaska Native Tribes, Commercial fishermen, conservation groups, churches, investors, hunters and anglers, restaurants, chefs and jewelry retail companies.  Earthworks applauds the EPA for taking this important step towards protecting the salmon fishery, and the 14,000 jobs that depend on it.