Clean Water Act at Work: EPA Supports Bristol Bay!

Bristol Bay, AK | © Bob Waldrop

Ask the EPA to use their CWA Section 404(c) authority to protect Bristol Bay!

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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.

Join us today in asking EPA to stop Pebble Mine using their CWA Section 404(c) authority, and protect Bristol Bay for future generations!

12 Responses to “Clean Water Act at Work: EPA Supports Bristol Bay!”

Scott Bosse

As a former Alaskan commercial salmon fisherman who now works in river conservation, I strongly urge the EPA to exercise its Clean Water Act 404(c) veto authority to preemptively stop the Pebble Mine from being constructed. Bristol Bay is home to the last, best wild salmon fishery left on earth. No mine could ever be worth more than the food that Bristol Bay’s salmon provide for people and wildlife.

Carroll Harris

Please stop the Pebble Mine FOREVER, if at all possible, and thus protect BRISTOL BAY for the future generations of ALL of the organisms who depend on it — not just the humans!

Thank you – Carroll Harris

Kathy Smith

Thank you for working to protect the Bristol Bay area. Will you please go ahead and use the CWA SEction 404(c) authority? Thank you!

Charles Frisk

Allowing the Pebble Mine to be built will be a “penny wise-pound foolish” decision. The salmon, the beauty, and the other values of Bristol Bay far exceed the mineral worth. Please stop the mine.

Jennifer Bringman

Please, protect Bristol Bay! EPA Listen we are speaking for the protection of BRISTOL BAY!

Mary Ann Kirsling

We count on the EPA to protect our resources and our environment. They are irreplaceable and they belong to us all.
Thank you for the important work you must do.

Eric Snyder

Glad to see that the federal government takes its responsibilities to all affected parties seriously.

Bertha Figueroa

I applaud the action of the EPA and I pray that they will make the right decision to protect our natural resources.

Alwin Lewinter

As an avid paddler I am all for protection of rivers.
But I am also a consumer, owing 3 kayaks, using my car for river shuttles, going to work etc.
For these reasons we need resources and we have permitting processes to make sure no accidents happen.
As it is never possible to guaranty 100% safety, we can look at what happened at the Mt. St.Helens eruption in 1980 The destruction of that eruption was much greater than all the mines in the world could accomplish if they tried to.
However 6 years after, there where more Salmon in that river than before the eruption, the Salmon level went back to the average density after the 7th. year and has staid there since, this shows the wonder’s of nature’capacity of recovery.
My suspicion is that the EPA is sacrificing Pebble mine in order to garner some legitimacy to permit Keystone pipeline and using CWA 404(C)clause to do it.

Kevin Harris

Lets look at preserving this earth now,and try to repair what we have already destroyed.protect our natural resources

Georges Boyer

EPA please STOP the Pebble mine. No amount of remediation will replace the inevitable destruction of natural habitat!