Updates from the Field - August 2019
It has been another banner year in Bristol Bay. Topping out at over 42 million sockeye, 2019 ranks as one of the top harvests on record for Bristol Bay fishermen. However, as they were celebrating their season, the fight to defend Bristol Bay from the Pebble Mine took a serious blow when political appointees at the EPA announced they are withdrawing proposed Clean Water Act safeguards for Bristol Bay.
To be crystal clear - this decision ignores science, the rights of sovereign Alaska Native tribes, and runs roughshod over governmental checks and balances, all in favor of a foreign company that wishes to construct a the toxic, open pit mine in the region’s headwaters.
On Tuesday morning, EPA Region 10 Administrator Chris Hladick signed a 28-page notice at the direction of agency appointees that formally removes the agency’s proposed protective standards for Bristol Bay initiated under the Obama Administration at the request of six Bristol Bay tribes in 2014.
Between 2010 and 2014, EPA undertook an exhaustive study of the potential impacts of mining on the waters and fisheries of Bristol Bay. Their study went through several drafts, two rounds of independent peer review, and multiple rounds of community hearings and public comment. In total over a million comments were generated with the majority signaling support for protecting Bristol Bay. EPA’s work culminated in 2014 with a set of proposed standards that could have protected Bristol Bay from the threat of the Pebble Mine.
These protections were never finalized due to a series of lawsuits against EPA by Pebble. Under the Trump administration, Pebble found the opportunity to settle the lawsuit which began the process of clearing the way for Pebble to move forward. Since the begining of the Trump Administration, Pebble has spent heavily on lobbyists in Washington, DC over the last few years to bend the mine permitting process their way. It’s clear their investment is paying off puttting profits over people.
Tuesday’s decision follows suit. It also flies in the face of critiques the mine by the EPA’s own staff and other agencies. Over the past few weeks, Pebble’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement has come under considerable fire. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service went so far as to write that the DEIS is: "so inadequate that it precludes meaningful analysis." EPA staff also issued a highly critical review of the DEIS, noting a laundry list of inadequacies and failures -- and now has just thrown the hard work of their own agency away.
Partners of Defend Bristol Bay from United Tribes of Bristol Bay to Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay have loudly expressed their dismay at this turn of events. We all collectively vow to continue the fight to protect the world’s greatest sockeye salmon fishery.
Right now, we turn our attention to Congress who has the power to step in and slow or stop this process. For years, Senator Lisa Murkowski has avoided taking a clear position against Pebble, instead advocating for clear, transparent, and science based processes. Today’s announcement is the opposite, this is clearly a political decision that puts Alaska jobs and our fisheries at great risk.