The complaint filed in US District Court alleges that “the proposed Pebble mine would destroy thousands of acres of critical habitat and miles of salmon streams that are essential to Bristol Bay’s commercial, recreational and subsistence salmon fisheries.”
The Bristol Bay entities, speaking collectively as the Bristol Bay Defense Alliance, includes the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, Bristol Bay Economic Development Association, Bristol Bay Native Association, United Tribes of Bristol Bay and the Bristol Bay Reserve Association.
“My homeland will fight them tooth and nail and that’s why we are here today,” said veteran Bristol Bay harvester Robin Samuelsen, of Dillingham, Alaska, whose grandfather started the first cannery in Bristol Bay 150 years ago. “This mine threatens to wipe out our culture,” said Samuelsen, who contends that top leadership at the EPA has been making decisions behind closed doors to reverse its own determination in July 2014 regarding Section 404 (c) of the Clean Water Act.
Samuelsen also noted that the EPA had previously been critical of the proposed mine on the edge of the watershed that is home to the world’s largest run of sockeye salmon. The fishery is of great economic, cultural and ecological importance to residents of that area of Southwest Alaska, and many others engaged in commercial, sport and subsistence fishing.
In 2019 Bristol Bay produced a harvest of over 44 million salmon. The fishery generates annual revenues of about $1.5 billion and supports 14,000 jobs.
“Bristol Bay is the crown jewel of Alaska’s salmon industry,” said Andy Wink, executive director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association. “There is simply no precedent for open pit mining coexisting with sockeye salmon on the scale proposed by the Pebble mine in Bristol Bay.”
“The EPA’s proposed determination to enact 404 (c) Clean Water Act protections is an important tool for safeguarding the world’s most productive salmon habitat, and we cannot allow it to be cast aside without due process,” Wink added.
“Because of our careful stewardship, Bristol Bay is home to the last fully intact wild salmon fisheries and cultures in the world,” said Ralph Andersen, president and CEO of Bristol Bay Native Association.
Last July, the EPA withdrew proposed Obama administration restrictions on mining in the Bristol Bay region, contending that those proposed restrictions were based on hypothetical scenarios and were outdated now that the Pebble Limited Partnership, a subsidiary of the Canadian global mining group Hunter Dickinson Inc., had submitted project plans.
The lawsuit contends that EPA’s withdrawal decision is not supported by the record and that EPA failed to acknowledge and explain its reversal. The lawsuit further claims that EPA improperly relied on factors, which Congress has not intended it to consider, and failed to consider relevant key factors in making its decision.