Brendan McLaughlin, bmclaughlin@earthworksaction.
Today Earthworks and SumOfUs submitted petitions with over 160,000 signatures asking the Environmental Protection Agency to protect Alaska’s Bristol Bay by restricting mine waste dumping in its headwaters. The petition submissions come at the close of a public comment period as the EPA considers using its Clean Water Act authority to protect the watershed and the world’s largest wild salmon fishery from the proposed Pebble Mine.
Salmon runs are central to the culture, lives and livelihoods of the people of Bristol Bay, sustaining the indigenous cultures that have lived in the area for millennia. The Bristol Bay salmon fishery generates $2 billion in annual economic benefits, supports 15,000 local jobs and provides the world with a sustainable supply of wild salmon. A record-breaking 78 million salmon returned to Bristol Bay this year.
“Bristol Bay is more than just home for the world’s largest wild sockeye salmon fishery,” said Bonnie Gestring, Northwest Program Director at Earthworks. “It’s the lifeline for the people of Bristol Bay and all those who depend on its bounty. We’re so close to meaningful protection for this irreplaceable and invaluable treasure. We are honored to submit these petitions in support of the Bristol Bay Tribes and commercial fishermen, who have been asking for Bristol Bay protections for over a decade.”
At the center of this decision is the controversial Pebble Mine proposed for Bristol Bay’s headwaters. Two decades of scientific study have determined that the disposal of mine waste in Bristol Bay’s headwaters would cause irreparable harm. Although the Army Corps of Engineers rejected the mine’s permit, saying that it would cause “unavoidable adverse impacts” and it would be “contrary to the public interest,” Northern Dynasty, the Canadian company behind the mine, appealed the decision.
“Consumers want to know that the world’s largest source of wild sockeye salmon will be protected far into the future,” said Angus Wong of SumOfUs. “SumOfUs members have been calling for the rejection of this salmon-killing mine since 2013. Our expectation is that this administration will put the final nail in the coffin.”
Under the 404(c) process of the Clean Water Act, the EPA has the authority to prevent Pebble, and other potential large mining operations like it, from storing or disposing of mining waste in Bristol Bay’s headwaters. Advocates say the EPA’s action must protect several critical sub watersheds: the North Fork Koktuli, South Fork Koktuli and Upper Talarik Creek, all of which support the productivity of Bristol Bay’s wild salmon. As the agency weighs its options, Congress is considering a leaked bill draft that would curtail oversight requirements in the Clean Water Act and other bedrock environmental laws.