On Friday, April 17, U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Gleason dismissed a lawsuit seeking to reinstate proposed Clean Water Act protections for Bristol Bay.

In 2014, the EPA proposed the protections for Bristol Bay, specifically aimed at habitat protection for wild salmon. The Pebble Limited Partnership filed its own suit to block the protections. Then in 2019, political appointees at the agency announced the withdrawal of the proposed protections. The lawsuit aimed to reverse the withdrawal.

On Monday, March 2, members of the Bristol Bay Defense Alliance testified in federal district court in support of the lawsuit the group filed against the Environmental Protection Agency in October.

“We filed this lawsuit in hopes of stiffening the spines of EPA political appointees, who are turning their backs on years of science, independent review and public comment conducted by their own staff,” said SalmonState Executive Director Tim Bristol. “The science is clear: the proposed Pebble Mine would endanger Bristol Bay — the world’s greatest remaining sockeye salmon run — and the jobs and ways of life that depend on it.”

Also last year, EPA filed technical comments noting a range of serious flaws in the Army Corps' environmental impact review of Pebble Mine.

The notes on that review prompted Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski to break her long-held silence on the project and declare, “I’m concerned, as I read through [EPA’s] analysis and critique, that the Corps’ DEIS has failed to meet my standard of a robust and rigorous process.”

"Meanwhile, Pebble is spending more than any other mining company in D.C., focused singularly on getting their federal permit before the end of 2020," said Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay in a release issued Monday, April 20. "In spite of the fact that all of Bristol Bay and its fishermen are focused on preventing the spread of covid-19 and working to protect residents and fishermen from both physical and economic harm, the U.S. Army Corps of engineers remains on track to meet Pebble’s requested timeline."

Bristol Bay organizations vowed to explore all options to protect Bristol Bay after the ruling.

“It’s unfortunate that EPA political appointees continue to look out for a foreign mining company over the needs and wishes of Alaskans,” Bristol added. “In spite of their dereliction of duty, the Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment remains the leading science for this unparalleled place.”

The Bristol Bay Defense Alliance is a collaboration between Bristol Bay Native Association, United Tribes of Bristol Bay, Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, Bristol Bay Reserve Association and Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation.

Jessica Hathaway is the editor in chief of National Fisherman. She has been covering the fishing industry for 16 years, serves on the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute's Communications Committee and is a National Fisheries Conservation Center board member.

Join the Conversation