Statement on EPA Decision to Protect Bristol Bay

Background: Today, the Environmental Protection Agency announced it will resume the process of permanently protecting the Bristol Bay watershed from mines like the Pebble project. The agency said it will reinstate the 2014 “proposed determination” under section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act. The process was initiated by the Obama administration and halted by the Trump administration. President Biden campaigned on a promise to finish the job. If finalized, this decision would restrict mining in the region to protect the watershed.

Bristol Bay’s sockeye run is integral to the health and cultures of nearby Indigenous communities and is the United States’ greatest wild salmon fishery. As salmon runs struggle in other parts of the world, this year’s Bristol Bay salmon run broke all previous records. The fishery generates $2.2 billion in annual economic activity, supports 15,000 jobs, and produces more than half of the world’s wild sockeye salmon.

The Pebble Mine has been strongly opposed by the majority of Alaskans, and particularly by those in Bristol Bay, including Bristol Bay Tribes, the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation, Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay and the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association. They have been asking the EPA to use its authority to protect Bristol Bay from large-scale mining, including the Pebble Mine, for more than a decade. They are supported by investors, churches, jewelers, hunters and anglers, businesses, scientists, conservation groups, and more.

Statement from Bonnie Gestring, Earthworks’ Northwest Program Director:

“Bristol Bay is an immensely valuable and sustainable resource that powers the economy, feeds the world, and is the heart of many Indigenous communities. We thank the EPA for putting science and the economy before politics.

“The broad, locally-driven coalition working to protect Bristol Bay has learned from experience how quickly political interference can unravel hard-earned progress. Today we celebrate. Tomorrow, we get back to the hard work of seeing this through. The Biden administration has a responsibility to the people of Bristol Bay to finish the job of establishing permanent protections for the watershed and its salmon.”