EPA moves to protect Bristol Bay salmon

JUNEAU — A federal agency announced Friday it was taking steps to protect the Bristol Bay sockeye salmon fishery, the largest in the world, but didn’t immediately say whether that would lead to an unprecedented administrative veto of the proposed Pebble mine even before developers formally submit plans.

The Environmental Protection Agency has spent three years studying the potential impacts on salmon of a large, open pit mine in the Bristol Bay region, where half of the world’s sockeye salmon are produced. Its final study came out in January after two drafts, 1.1 million public comments and two reviews by an independent panel of experts.

“Extensive scientific study has given us ample reason to believe that the Pebble Mine would likely have significant and irreversible negative impacts on the Bristol Bay watershed and its abundant salmon fisheries,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said in a written statement early Friday.

“It’s why EPA is taking this step forward in our effort to ensure protection for the world’s most productive salmon fishery from the risks it faces from what could be one of the largest open pit mines on earth. This process is not something the Agency does very often, but Bristol Bay is an extraordinary and unique resource.”

Environmental, fishing and Native groups pushed the EPA to block the mine even as Republican political leaders including Gov. Sean Parnell, U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Rep. Don Young have faulted even the whisper of a veto as extreme “federal overreach.”

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