A consortium of Alaska organizations announced today that they will be filing a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency. The Bristol Bay Defense Alliance filing is an effort to combat the Trump administration's efforts to remove Clean Water Act protections put in place under the Obama-era EPA to protect the wild salmon watershed and fishery in Bristol Bay from threats posed by the proposed Pebble Mine.
In 2010, six Bristol Bay Tribes requested the protections and soon were supported in the effort by commercial and sport fishing groups. The battle has ebbed and flowed for nearly a decade since. But the election of President Donald Trump flipped a switch toward efforts to smooth a path for the mine's Canadian owners.
"The EPA's multiyear public process and the resulting proposed determination included every stakeholder group — our organizations, state government representatives, scientific experts, Bristol Bay residents, and even the Pebble Partnership. All had seats at the table," said the alliance in a release today. "The administration’s recent move to withdraw the protections runs counter to the best available science and is an effort to advance a foreign mining company’s interests."
Bristol Bay's recent boom in sockeye returns as well as ex-vessel value is well timed to make the case for preserving the world-class fishery.
“Bristol Bay is the crown jewel of Alaska’s salmon industry. It is the most valuable salmon fishery in the world, accounting for roughly half of the world’s sockeye salmon harvest," said Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association Executive Director Andy Wink. "There is simply no precedent for open pit mining coexisting with sockeye salmon on the scale proposed by the Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay."
The alliance made the announcement at the steps of the James M. Fitzgerald Federal Courthouse in Anchorage on Tuesday, Oct. 8.
"The federal government has a trust responsibility to protect the resources that our cultures depend on, and eliminating the proposed protections violates that responsibility," added Ralph Andersen, Bristol Bay Native Association president and CEO.
In late September, Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski released a report calling for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to take its time to address the concerns of key state and federal agencies, as well as the region’s stakeholders, before submitting its decision on permitting for Pebble Mine near Alaska’s Bristol Bay.
“If the data, if the science out there that has been raised by these agencies can’t demonstrate that you can have a successful mining project in an area that is as sensitive as the Bristol Bay watershed, then a permit should not issue,” Murkowski said.
Alaska's fishing and fishery science communities have raised concerns about the quality of the Army Corps' assessment.
Bristol Bay Defense Alliance comprises the Bristol Bay Native Association, United Tribes of Bristol Bay, Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, Bristol Bay Reserve Association and Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp.