Alaska’s Bristol Bay is a rich fishing area home to 46 percent of the average global abundance of wild sockeye salmon. Following two decades of back and forth between the Pebble Limited Partnership, conservation groups, Tribes, and state and federal governments, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced plans to officially halt the project.
The mineral deposit site for the proposed mine sits near headwaters that support Bristol Bay’s salmon fishery, raising the risk that the waters could be contaminated by a mining accident.
The EPA plans to use the Clean Water Act provision to protect the area, a strategy that has been effective in halting a dozen other mining projects around the nation.
Pebble Limited Partnership and Canadian parent company Northern Dynasty Minerals argue that the mine would provide badly-needed year-round jobs in the region as well as provide the additional metals, notably copper, needed to scale up renewable energy infrastructure in the US.
Despite these few benefits, the development of a mine could be devastating to local ecosystems and critical fish populations. The destruction of the Bristol Bay fishery would disproportionately harm Alaska Natives who rely on the bay for economic prosperity.
The EPA originally took action on the issue in 2014, when it proposed allowing the project to move forward but limited the amount of wastewater that could be discharged into the bay. In 2019, the EPA under the new administration revoked that proposal, but the project was fully halted last November when the US Army Corps of Engineers denied the project’s construction permit.
Now, conservation groups, including the United Tribes of Bristol Bay, the group which legally challenged the 2019 proposal withdrawal, hope that more permanent EPA action will put the issue to rest for good.
Alannah Hurley, executive director of United Tribes of Bristol Bay told Anchorage Daily News that the organization believes further environmental impact data gathered since 2014 will give the EPA the leverage they need to halt the project permanently. “They have what they need to take much broader actions to protect the headwaters of Bristol Bay,” she said.