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EPA releases new proposal to protect Bristol Bay fisheries from impacts posed by Pebble Mine



July 19, 2014

(SitNews) Bristol Bay, Alaska - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 10 announced Friday it is issuing a new proposal to protect one of the world’s most valuable salmon fisheries, in Bristol Bay, Alaska, from the risks posed by large-scale mining at the Pebble deposit.

Quoting the EPA announcement, "science has shown that development of this mine, which is backed by Northern Dynasty Minerals and the Pebble Limited Partnership, would be one of the largest open pit copper mines in the world and would threaten one of the world’s most productive salmon fisheries."

“Bristol Bay is an extraordinary ecosystem that supports an ancient fishing culture and economic powerhouse,” said Dennis McLerran, Regional Administrator for EPA Region 10.

jpg EPA releases new proposal to protect Bristol Bay fisheries from impacts posed by Pebble Mine

Pebble Deposit Area, Southwest Alaska

“The science is clear," said McLerran, "that mining the Pebble deposit would cause irreversible damage to one of the world’s last intact salmon ecosystems. Bristol Bay’s exceptional fisheries deserve exceptional protection. We are doing this now because we’ve heard from concerned tribes, the fishing industry, Alaskans and many others who have lived and worked for more than a decade under the uncertainty posed by this potentially destructive mine. Simply put, this will be a uniquely large mine in a uniquely important place.”

EPA Region 10 announced Friday that it is seeking public comment on this new proposal from July 21 to Sept. 19, 2014, and will hold public meetings in Alaska from August 12-15. EPA Region 10’s proposal to protect the Bristol Bay watershed outlines restrictions that would protect waters that support salmon in and near the Pebble deposit. The EPA lists restrictions that will apply to impacts associated with large-scale mining of the Pebble deposit. No other lands or development are subject to the restrictions.

In February, EPA announced it was initiating a process under the Clean Water Act to protect the Bristol Bay fisheries from mining of the Pebble deposit. The announcement followed a multiyear scientific study examining the impacts of large-scale copper mining in the Bristol Bay watershed.

The Bristol Bay watershed is an area of exceptional ecological value with salmon productivity unrivaled anywhere in North America. The region’s streams, wetlands, lakes and ponds provide intact habitat that supports all five species of Pacific salmon found in North America: coho, Chinook, sockeye, chum, and pink. These salmon populations are critical to the health of the entire ecosystem, which is home to more than 20 other fish species, 190 bird species, and more than 40 terrestrial mammal species, including bears, moose, and caribou.

Bristol Bay supports commercial, subsistence, and recreational fisheries that are worth hundreds of millions in economic yield each year and create thousands of jobs.

As Bristol Bay’s commercial fishermen are pulling their nets for the final time at the close of another historic sockeye salmon season, Bristol Bay commercial fishermen thanked the EPA for moving to protect the global salmon marketplace.

On behalf of its over 1,800 drift permit holders, the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association (BBRSDA) commended the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) proposed Clean Water Act 404(c) determination, which if finalized, will restrict mining developments in Bristol Bay that would have “unacceptable adverse impacts” to the watershed and health of the fishery.

According to the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, the Bristol Bay salmon fishery produces over 50% of the world’s sockeye and is the most valuable commercial salmon fishery on earth, estimated at $1.5 billion annually. After a three-year independent study, EPA has determined that if constructed, the Pebble Mine would negatively impact salmon due to its location and deposit type.

“We have seen another incredible salmon run this season, which further highlights the importance of protecting Bristol Bay’s unique fisheries resources,” said Sue Aspelund, executive director of BBRSDA. “We are pleased that EPA has listened to Alaskans, and following vigorous scientific review and consistent with its authority, to see it move forward with the 404(c) process to protect the fishing industry in Bristol Bay, and adhere to the watershed standards the Clean Water Act put in place over 40 years ago for this very purpose.”

“The science is extremely clear that large-scale mining and healthy salmon habitat cannot coexist in Bristol Bay. For this reason, we hope that all Alaskans will comment, asking the EPA to see the process through and implement strong protections for salmon and those that depend on them,” said Katherine Carscallen, BBRSDA board member.

“Thousands of jobs in Bristol Bay rely on a healthy fishery. We are excited to see that the EPA also recognizes the importance of this region for its salmon, culture, and economic value to Alaska, and we will continue to work to ensure the Bay remains that way for generations to come," said Carscallen.

The hunting and angling community also commended the EPA on its announcement ot protect Bristol Bay. The effort to protect Bristol Bay has seen one of the largest and most diverse mobilizations of the sporting community in history. A range of sporting conservation groups and trade associations including the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, Dallas Safari Club, American Fly Fishing Trade Association, Trout Unlimited, Pope & Young Club, Federation of Fly Fishers, Conservation Force, American Sportfishing Association, Delta Waterfowl Foundation and a veritable laundry list of the most recognizable brands in hunting and fishing products have expressed their support for EPA’s use of the Clean Water Act to protect Bristol Bay. This support stands firm in the face of recent attacks in Congress on EPA’s Clean Water Act authority.

Scott Hed, director of the Sportsman’s Alliance for Alaska, emphasized the broad support for the conservation of the Bristol Bay region, stating, “Hunters and anglers from across the country have joined forces and worked for years to defend one of the planet’s finest sporting destinations. The EPA previously identified the threats posed by massive mining proposals in the region and now has issued some advance guidance that will ensure any future development in Bristol Bay will not harm its vast natural resources. Sportsmen welcome this development and believe EPA is taking the right approach by using the Clean Water Act to provide Bristol Bay a future unclouded by the uncertainty it has faced for the last decade."

“Bristol Bay provides unmatched opportunities to fish and hunt because of its unique fisheries and wildlife habitat, and the related jobs and economy are sustainable and irreplaceable,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “The EPA agrees and has acted judiciously in attempting to ensure Bristol Bay is not threatened by the wrong type of mining development. Sportsmen and conservationists across the country are cheering the EPA, and we encourage the agency to move forward in finalizing its determination."

Dallas Safari Club Executive Director Ben Carter added, “The Dallas Safari Club and its membership have supported wildlife and habitat conservation and hunting and fishing access in southwest Alaska for many years. Mining plans on the scale of the proposed Pebble Mine put at risk the very habitat and opportunities we have fought to conserve. Without habitat there is no fish and game. It is that simple. We oppose any development in the Bristol Bay region that would jeopardize this critical ecosystem and welcome the news that EPA has moved from studying Bristol Bay to using the Clean Water Act to give this incredible region the basic protections it deserves.”

“When EPA released the findings of its Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment earlier this year, it established what the sport fishing community has understood for as long as anglers have been fishing in Bristol Bay: Development of the wrong type of large-scale mining in this region will have significant negative impacts on waters that support this vibrant fishery,” said Gordon Robertson, Vice President of the American Sportfishing Association.

Ben Bulis, President of the American Fly Fishing Trade Association added “Our industry commends the EPA for taking the next step to provide certainty for Bristol Bay and all the businesses and jobs in Alaska and across the country that benefit from it. Our membership heartily supports the EPA’s thoughtful and measured action under the Clean Water Act, which will provide sport fishing opportunities in Bristol Bay for generations of anglers to come.”

“Protecting Bristol Bay has united the sporting community,” Hed concluded. “Never before has such an overwhelming show of support rallied to the defense of a treasured place. Whether you’ve visited Bristol Bay in the past and can’t wait to return or you simply dream of fishing or hunting in the region someday, the EPA’s action affects us all. With its action today, the Obama administration is protecting jobs, preserving vital hunting and fishing habitats, and securing its conservation legacy by permanently protecting Bristol Bay. This development brings us one step closer to a conservation victory that will rank with the greatest of our generation.”

U.S. Senator Mark Begich (D-AK) said in a prepared statement, “This is a long and detailed determination, but based on initial review, the draft determination applies only to the Pebble deposit. The limited scope is critical and means the determination would not affect mining or any other resource development project in other parts of the state. As I’ve often stated, I believe Pebble is the wrong mine in the wrong place. However, I remain a strong supporter of the mining industry and mines in other regions of Alaska and remain committed to ensuring that this process does not allow any precedent to be set that could restrict other responsible mining projects in Alaska or the U.S."

Begich said, "In the past I’ve encouraged the Pebble Partnership to go through the permitting process and nothing I’ve seen in this document would prevent Pebble from applying for a permit. Instead it sets the ground rules for responsible development that the Pebble Partnership, or any other business, must abide by in order to mine the Pebble deposit in this critical habitat. Alaskans agree that we cannot develop one resource – copper – at the expense of our world class salmon fisheries and the communities and families who depend on salmon for jobs and subsistence.”

However, not all were happy with EPA's announcement Numerous comments of displeasure were voice by officials.

Alaskan Congressman Don Young (R-AK) on Friday denounced the EPA’s proposal to place what he called unprecedented restrictions on state lands in the Bristol Bay region, and called it a major attack on state’s rights both in Alaska and nationwide.

“For the EPA to put forward these types of restrictions, prior to any permit applications and without due process, is alarming to say the least,” said Congressman Young. “As I’ve said in the past, the EPA’s expansive, jurisdictional power grab is a very serious threat to Alaska’s sovereignty and the future of any development on state, Alaska Native, or privately owned lands both in Alaska and across the United States.”

Young said, “People must understand the implications of the EPA’s actions. If they get away with taking these actions in the Bristol Bay region, they can and will replay this strategy nationwide and stop projects in their tracks – before, during, and after the permitting process. These actions give the EPA absolute authority to meddle in even the most basic development and infrastructure projects, a fact that should be chilling to any private land owner or anyone who has benefited from even the most basic construction project.”

In a prepared statement, Alaska Attorney General Michael Geraghty also voice his displeasure. “The EPA’s rush to veto potential mining at the Pebble deposit is disturbing, especially since none of the required permit applications, including a Section 404 permit application, have been filed with or vetted by the state and federal regulatory authorities,” said Attorney General Geraghty. “It is unfortunate that the EPA, rather than working with other federal regulatory agencies during this comprehensive review process, and with a state committed to responsible and safe resource development, has chosen to act prematurely with a heavy hand, even while a court case challenging the use of that authority is pending," said Geraghty.

Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Joe Balash also expressed disappointment with the new regulations. Balash said, “The EPA’s action affects more than just this potential project and this area of land,” said Commissioner Balash. “It sets precedent for the EPA to prohibit or limit development anywhere and anytime EPA chooses, including on lands inside and outside of Alaska. Today’s action will undoubtedly negatively impact opportunities for investment and job creation not only in Alaska, but around the nation.”

The Co-Chairs of the Alaska House Resources Committee issued the following statements Friday upon learning of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s latest attempt to block development of the proposed Pebble Deposit in Southwest Alaska.

“Blatant. The Agency is currently being sued by the developers, who are seeking court approval to stop them from over-reaching their authority before the companies can even follow the prescribed process. I am, sadly, not surprised to learn of this new attempt, which borders on a ‘taking’ of state resources,” Representative Eric Feige, R-Chickaloon, said. “Given the report of the EPA inspector general and the collusion between national environmental organizations and the EPA – and the now common ‘I lost the emails’ excuse – we’re certainly within our rights to push back and protect the state’s interests. We’ll review their latest plan, continue to monitor the situation closely, and continue to also ask Alaskans to make their voice heard. I thank the Governor for supporting the companies’ suit, and our delegation in Washington, D.C. for continuing to try and hold EPA administrators accountable. Actions like these should not be allowed by the so-called gatekeepers of our lands. Let the process continue without games.”

“The EPA’s latest effort shows a complete lack of respect to the judicial process and for their own processes for reviewing and permitting industrial operations. This is a slap in the face to the State of Alaska, the developers and those who wish to see responsible development lead to a bettering of our economy,” Representative Dan Saddler, R-JBER/Eagle River, said. “While we review the newest proposal, I agree with my Co-Chair that Alaskans must get involved and let the EPA know that its meddlesome actions will not just hurt our economy, but further erode our trust in their intentions. The EPA should not be able to change the rules of the game as they see fit, or when they meet with objections.”


Quoting an EPA news release, based on information provided by Northern Dynasty Minerals to investors and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, mining the Pebble deposit is likely to result in:

  • A mine pit nearly as deep as the Grand Canyon. Based on mine proponents’ prospectus, EPA estimates the mine would require excavation of the largest open pit ever constructed in North America and would cover nearly seven square miles at a maximum depth of over 3/4 of a mile. The maximum depth of the Grand Canyon is about one mile.
  • Mine waste that would fill a major football stadium up to 3,900 times. This includes mine tailings and waste rock.
  • Massive mine tailings impoundments that would cover approximately 19 square miles and waste rock piles that would cover nearly nine square miles in an area with productive streams, wetlands, lakes and ponds important for salmon.
  • A mining operation that would cover an area larger than Manhattan. This includes all three mine components EPA considered (mine pit, tailings impoundments, and waste rock piles).

A mine would also require additional infrastructure including a major transportation corridor, pipelines, and wastewater treatment plants, according to the EPA.


EPA Region 10’s proposal to protect the Bristol Bay watershed outlines restrictions that would protect waters that support salmon in and near the Pebble deposit. These restrictions apply to impacts associated with large-scale mining of the Pebble deposit. No other lands or development are subject to the restrictions.

The Clean Water Act generally requires a Section 404 permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers before any person places dredged or fill material into streams, wetlands, lakes and ponds. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers authorizes thousands of permits every year, and EPA works with the Corps and developers to resolve environmental concerns so projects can move forward. Under Section 404(c), EPA is authorized to prohibit or restrict fill activities if a project would have unacceptable adverse effects on fishery areas.

EPA has used its 404(c) authority sparingly, beginning the process in 30 instances and completing it only 13 times in the 42-year history of the Clean Water Act. EPA use of its authority has typically involved major projects with significant impacts on some of America’s most ecologically valuable waters.

EPA Region 10 has initially concluded that mining the Pebble deposit would affect the South Fork Koktuli River, North Fork Koktuli River and Upper Talarik Creek watersheds. The proposed restrictions are outlined in a document called the Proposed Determination. The restrictions are based on the construction and operation of a 0.25-billion-ton mine. This was the smallest of the three mine scenarios EPA analyzed in the Bristol Bay Assessment and is significantly smaller than the mine presented to Northern Dynasty Minerals investors. Even the development of this smaller mine would result in unacceptable adverse impacts.

Based on scientific analysis, EPA proposes to restrict all discharge of dredged or fill material related to mining the Pebble deposit that would result in any or all of the following:

  • Loss of streams: The loss of five or more miles of streams with documented salmon occurrence (coho, Chinook, sockeye, chum, pink); or the loss of 19 or more miles of streams where salmon are not documented, but that are tributaries of streams with documented salmon occurrence
  • Loss of wetlands, lakes, and ponds: The loss of 1,100 or more acres of wetlands, lakes, and ponds that connect with streams with documented salmon occurrence or tributaries of those streams
  • Streamflow alterations: Streamflow alterations greater than 20 percent of daily flow in nine or more linear miles of streams with documented salmon occurrence

According to EPA analyses, losses of the nature and magnitude listed above would be unprecedented for the Clean Water Act Section 404 regulatory program in the Bristol Bay region, as well as the rest of Alaska and perhaps the nation.

In addition to holding public meetings, EPA will meet with tribes for formal consultation. The Bristol Bay region is home to 31 Alaska Native Villages. Residents of the area depend on salmon both as a major food resource and for their economic livelihood. Nearly all residents participate in subsistence fishing.

The Clean Water 404(c) process allows for substantial input from the public, the state, the mining companies involved with the Pebble deposit and from Alaska Native tribes. EPA Region 10 will review public comments on its proposal and consider next steps in the process, which could include moving toward a Recommended Determination to the EPA Assistant Administrator for Water.

Again, EPA Region 10 is now seeking public comment on its proposal from July 21 to Sept. 19, 2014, and will hold public meetings in Alaska from August 12-15. Public hearings will be held in Anchorage, New Stuyahok, Nondalton, Kokhanok, Dillingham, Iliamna, and Igiugig. (Click here for hearing information).


On the Web:

For more informatio on how to comment and the upcoming meetings in Alaska

Oral and written comments on EPA's proposal will be accepted at the following hearings

Full Version - Proposed Determination Pursuant to Section 404c of the Clean Water Act for Pebble Deposit Area, Southwest Alaska (214 pages PDF)

Sources of News: 


Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association (BBRSDA) and

Alaska Department of Law

Alaska Department of Natural Resources

U.S. Senator Mark Begich

Congressman Don Young

Sportsman’s Alliance for Alaska

Alaska House Majority

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Ketchikan, Alaska

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