EPA takes action to protect Bristol Bay in Alaska from massive mining project

The word “Alaska” comes from the word “Alyeska”, an Aleutian term meaning “great land”. It is an apt term for such a majestic place. As great as it is, however, some people might argue that Alaska’s best feature isn’t its land, but rather its water. After all, the state is home to over 3 million lakes, 12,000 rivers, over 6,600 miles of coastline, and over 47,000 miles of tidal shore.

All this water makes Alaska a paradise for anglers, who flock to the state’s marine resources in droves to enjoy its fish fruits. Sadly, one of their favorite places is also one of the most endangered in Alaska: the mineral-rich Bristol Bay, which is the planned site of the Pebble Mine, a gold and mining project. copper which could become the largest mine in North America.

That is, if it is built. Thanks to new measures taken this month by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), it seems less likely that this will be the case.

Plans for Pebble Mine have been publicly debated since the project was first launched almost 20 years ago. In 2014, the Obama administration proposed to block the project due to “unacceptable environmental effects,” citing an obscure provision in the Clean Water Act that allows the EPA to ban or restrict industrial activities that could have an impact. negative impact on environmental resources. The administration argued that the open pit design of the project could destroy 1,200 acres of wetlands, lakes and ponds that are fertile spawning grounds for sockeye, coho, chum and pink salmon. . In addition to a rich commercial fishing industry that supports thousands of jobs, these fish are essential to other species, including more than 20 species of fish, 190 species of birds and more than 40 species of land mammals. , including bears, moose and caribou. mention the natives of Alaska, whose subsistence-based way of life has included salmon fishing for over 4,000 years.

Former President Donald Trump’s EPA subsequently reversed the Obama administration’s stance in 2019 and allowed the mine developer to apply for a permit, which the US Army Corps of Engineers denied for the delighted by Republicans like Donald Trump Jr. and Fox News personality Tucker Carlson, who generally resist environmental regulations but publicly oppose Pebble Mine because they personally enjoy fishing in Bristol Bay.

Now, in another reversal of federal sentiment, President Joe Biden’s EPA is restoring the government’s position in Obama’s time: On September 9, it asked a federal court to allow the aforementioned Clean protections. Water Act for Bristol Bay. If the court agrees, the EPA could begin the process of instituting long-term protections for the Bristol Bay watershed.

“The Bristol Bay watershed is an Alaskan treasure that underscores the critical value of drinking water in America,” EPA administrator Michael Regan said in a statement. “Today’s announcement once again reinforces the EPA’s commitment to making science-based decisions to protect our natural environment. What is at stake is preventing pollution that would disproportionately impact Alaskan natives and protecting a sustainable future for North America’s most productive salmon fishery.

Central to the EPA’s strategy is Section 404 (c) of the Clean Water Act, which requires industry to apply for a permit from the US Army Corps of Engineers in order to dump dredged or fill material into some streams, wetlands, lakes and ponds. In making its clearance decisions, the Corps relies on environmental criteria created by the EPA, which under Section 404 (c) also has the authority to restrict or even block release activities when ‘he believes that they have a negative impact on the environment.

In the 50 years of the Clean Water Act, the EPA has exercised its authority under Section 404 (c) only 13 times. Alaska natives hope Bristol Bay will be No.14.

“[Section 404(c)] protections is something our tribes have been fighting for literally almost two decades now, ”Alannah Hurley, executive director of United Tribes of Bristol Bay, told the Washington Post in an interview, in which she called the latest EPA’s “monumental step in the right direction.”

Pebble Limited Partnership, the entity behind Pebble Mine, has championed its project, which it says will advance environmental goals by enabling a transition to clean energy.


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