Clean Water Act at Work: EPA Supports Bristol Bay!
Today, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it is initiating a process under the Clean Water Act (CWA) to identify appropriate options to protect the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery in Bristol Bay, Alaska, from the potentially destructive impacts of the proposed Pebble Mine!
The Pebble Mine has the potential to be one of the largest open-pit copper mines ever developed, and could threaten a salmon resource rare in its quality and productivity. During this process, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (the Corps) cannot approve a permit for the mine.
Recently, the EPA released an assessment of the anticipated impacts of such a project on the salmon populations of Bristol Bay. The EPA is basing its action on available information, including data collected as a part of the agency’s Bristol Bay ecological risk assessment and mine plans submitted to the Securities and Exchange Commission. Today, Dennis McLerran, EPA Regional Administrator for EPA Region 10, sent letters to the Corps, the State of Alaska, and the Pebble Partnership initiating action under EPA’s CWA Section 404(c) authorities.
“Bristol Bay is an extraordinary natural resource, home to some of the most abundant salmon producing rivers in the world. The area provides millions of dollars in jobs and food resources for Alaska Native Villages and commercial fishermen,” McLerran said. “The science EPA reviewed paints a clear picture: Large-scale copper mining of the Pebble deposit would likely result in significant and irreversible harm to the salmon and the people and industries that rely on them.”
In 2010, several Bristol Bay Alaska Native tribes requested that EPA take action under CWA Section 404(c) to protect the Bristol Bay watershed and salmon resources from development of the proposed Pebble Mine. Then in 2011, American Rivers worked with the tribes to list Bristol Bay Rivers as one of America’s Most Endangered Rivers®.
The objective of the CWA is to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the nation’s waters. The Act emphasizes protecting uses of the nation’s waterways, including fishing. The CWA generally requires a permit under Section 404 from the Corps before any person places dredge or fill material into wetlands, lakes, and streams. Mining operations typically involve such activities and must obtain CWA Section 404 permits. Section 404 directs EPA to develop the environmental criteria the Corps uses to make permit decisions. It also authorizes EPA to prohibit or restrict fill activities if EPA determines such actions would have unacceptable adverse effects on fishery areas.
The steps in the CWA 404(c) [PDF] review process are:
- Step 1 – Consultation period with the Corps and owners of the site— initiated today.
- Step 2 – Publication of Proposed Determination (including proposed prohibitions or restrictions on mining the Pebble deposit) in Federal Register for public comment and one or more public hearings— you’ll be hearing from us again when this happens!
- Step 3 – Review of public comments and development of Recommended Determination by EPA Regional Administrator to Assistant Administrator for Water at EPA Headquarters in Washington, DC.
- Step 4 – Second consultation period with the Army Corps and site owners and development of Final Determination by Assistant Administrator for Water, including any final prohibitions or restrictions on mining the Pebble deposit.
Based on input EPA receives during any one of these steps, the agency could decide that further review under Section 404(c) is not necessary.
Now that the 404(c) process has been initiated, the Corps cannot issue a permit for fill in wetlands or streams associated with mining the Pebble deposit until EPA completes the 404(c) review process.
EPA has received over 850,000 requests from citizens, tribes, Alaska Native corporations, commercial and sport fisherman, jewelry companies, seafood processors, restaurant owners, chefs, conservation organizations, members of the faith community, sport recreation business owners, elected officials, and others asking EPA to take action to protect Bristol Bay.