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EPA Acts to Protect Salmon from Pebble Mine
In tremendous news for salmon, wildlife, and people who prize solitude, spectacular scenery, and outdoor recreation, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today announced it will initiate a formal process under the Clean Water Act to protect Alaska’s Bristol Bay from the proposed Pebble Mine.
Bristol Bay is home to the greatest remaining runs of wild sockeye salmon on earth. Each year, millions of bright red salmon return to Bristol Bay to spawn and die. This ageless cycle pumps nutrients into the ecosystem and sustains a rich and varied community of fish and wildlife. Bristol Bay is one of the world’s premier destinations for sportsmen and supports Alaska Native communities that have practiced a salmon-based culture for millennia.
The Pebble Limited Partnership has proposed to develop a copper and gold mine in the headwaters of the Nushagak and Kvichak Rivers, two of the most important rivers in the Bristol Bay watershed. The Pebble Mine would be the largest open pit mine in North America and require three or more massive earthen dams to store billions of tons of toxic waste.
In 2010, Alaska Natives asked EPA to exercise its authority to protect the Bristol Bay watershed and its fisheries from the development of the Pebble Mine. NWF and other mine opponents submitted hundreds of thousands of comments supporting this request and asking EPA to take action. In response, EPA conducted an exhaustive assessment of large-scale mining in Bristol Bay and concluded there is ample reason to believe that Pebble Mine would likely have significant and irreversible negative impacts on the Bristol Bay watershed and its abundant salmon fisheries.
In today’s announcement, EPA stated it will begin the formal process to protect Bristol Bay. This lengthy process involves consultations with other agencies and the mine developer, a public comment period, and one or more public hearings. At the end of the process, EPA will prohibit or restrict fill activities—the types of activities that are almost always involved in large-scale mining—if it is necessary to avoid unacceptable adverse effects on fishery areas.
This isn’t the end of the fight, of course. We need to make sure that EPA makes the right decision at the end of the process. It is, however, a huge step in the right direction. It’s still dark and snowy up here in Alaska, but it’s sure starting to feel like spring. Thank you, EPA!