Friday, the Trump Administration’s Environmental Protection Agency reversed course on the agency’s long standing efforts to protect Alaska’s Bristol Bay and America’s most valuable wild salmon fishery.
In announcing a deal with Canadian-based Northern Dynasty to settle the company’s legal fight, the EPA has agreed to drop its 2014 proposed determination to protect the salmon fishery from the Pebble copper-gold-molybdenum open-pit mine proposal.
Alaska’s Bristol Bay watershed is so important because it supplies roughly 50% of the world’s commercial supply of wild sockeye salmon, and has sustained Alaska Natives’ subsistence-based way of life for thousands of years.
Let’s be clear. There was a highly transparent, locally driven, lengthy, scientific, public process that led to the EPA’s determination to place restrictions on mine waste disposal in Bristol Bay’s waters.
Under the terms of today’s settlement, the EPA will start a process to withdraw the proposed protections, and allow Northern Dynasty to apply for a federal permit within 30 months.
The settlement is a blatant backroom deal by Trump’s newly appointed EPA Administrator, Scott Pruitt, that ignores science and benefits a foreign mining company over the 14,000 hard-working fishermen that rely on the health of the fishery.
What now? While Northern Dynasty is celebrating and its stock price has jumped, this battle is far from over. In a press conference on Thursday, prominent business leaders said they would do whatever it takes to protect the salmon fishery that generates $500 million a year:
“To be very blunt, over my dead body,” said Norm Van Vactor, CEO of Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp., and an owner of Ocean Beauty Seafoods, one of the largest seafood companies in the United States.
Bristol Bay Native Corporation Board Chair, Joe Chythlook, joined in a rallying cry on Thursday, saying: “This is no place, I repeat, this is no place, for a mine that risks all that we have. I am proud today to express to you all: salmon first, Pebble never.”
In Alaska and across America, the public has repeatedly voiced its opposition to Pebble. Commercial fishermen, Seafood processors. Hunters and anglers. Alaska Native communities. Jewelry retail companies. Grocery stores. Chefs. Restaurants. Churches. Scientists. Conservationists.