Dillingham, AK/Washington D.C. – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) received approximately 700,000 comments in support of its plan to use its Clean Water Act authority to restrict mine waste disposal from the Pebble Mine proposed in Alaska’s Bristol Bay watershed. When combined with previous public input, over 1.5 million comments have been submitted in favor of Bristol Bay protection, including broad and diverse support from Alaska Native Tribes, commercial fishermen, hunters and anglers, businesses like CREDO Mobile, churches, conservation groups, restaurants, jewelers and investors.
“Our economy and culture are on the line,” said Luki Akelkok, chairman of Nunamta Aulukestai, an association of ten Bristol Bay Native Tribes and corporations and a sport-fishing lodge owner. “We want the EPA to finalize these restrictions as quickly as possible to protect our salmon and our livelihoods.”
Bristol Bay is home to the world’s largest and most productive wild salmon fishery. Alaska Native Tribes and commercial fishermen petitioned the EPA in 2010 to use its authority under Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act to restrict mine waste disposal from the proposed Pebble Mine to protect the salmon fishery. The EPA’s plan, which was released for public comment in July 2014, found that even the smallest Pebble mine scenario would have significant, unacceptable impacts on salmon.
“We asked the EPA to step in to protect our salmon fishery, and they listened to us,” said Kim Williams, executive director of Nunamta Aulukestai. “Local, state and national support for protecting Bristol Bay is undeniable. Now they just have to finish the job.”
According to EPA records, the loss of streams and wetlands from development of the Pebble deposit would be unprecedented for the Section 404 regulatory program of the Clean Water Act in Alaska and the nation. The Bristol Bay salmon fishery generates $480 million in annual revenue, and supplies almost half of the world’s wild sockeye salmon.
“With over 1.5 million comments in favor of Bristol Bay protection, there can be no doubt that the public supports this,” said Jennifer Krill, executive director of Earthworks. “All eyes are on the Obama Administration now to make the final call that protects the world’s most valuable wild salmon fishery, and the 14,000 jobs that rely on it.
EPA will decide whether to withdraw its plan or recommend its finalization no later than February 4th, 2015.