EPA Delays Proposed Determination on Pebble Deposit in Bristol Bay Watershed

Environmental Protection Agency
Image via Environmental Protection Agency.

A decision by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to delay until May 31 a revised Clean Water Act Section 404 (c) Proposed Determination regarding the Pebble deposit in Alaska’s Bristol Bay watershed is prompting serious concerns from commercial fishermen and Alaska Native tribes.

Officials with EPA Region 10 said the agency continues to have reason to believe that the discharge of dredged or fill material associated with the copper, gold and molybdenum deposit could result in unacceptable adverse impact on fisheries.

On Jan. 28, EPA officials said that they had notified those interested in the EPA’s work on the Bristol Bay watershed of plans to issue that revised Proposed Determination, to ensure there is ample opportunity for full consideration of available information to determine their next steps before May 31.

Response was brief from the Pebble Limited Partnership in Anchorage, a subsidiary of Hunter Dickinson Inc., a diversified global mining firm in Vancouver, British Columbia, that wants to get permitted to build the mine.

“We have received the letter from the EPA and are reviewing it to determine our next steps,” said Mike Heatwole, an Anchorage spokesman for the PLP.

Opponents of the project were more vocal.

“Bristol Bay’s fishermen are deeply concerned by news from the EPA that they do not intend to protect Bristol Bay by the time we head out for another fishing season,” Katherine Carscallen, executive director of Concerned Fishermen for Bristol Bay, said.

Carscallen said fishermen have been urging the EPA for a decade to finalize its proposed Clean Water Act protections, but that now, in spite of President Biden’s commitment to stop the Pebble mine and a decade of science in support of Clean Water Act protections, they are again being asked to wait.

“The EPA has a responsibility to Bristol Bay’s fishermen, tribes and local residents to clarify their timeline, provide adequate opportunity for residents and fishermen to participate in the process and finalize Clean Water Act protections this summer, so that we don’t have to fish another season with the Pebble mine threatening our communities and our future,” she commented.

Representatives from the Natural Resources Defense Council, United Tribes of Bristol Bay and SalmonState, an initiative that works to protect Alaska’s wild salmon populations, also urged the EPA to complete its work and remove what they see as a serious threat from large-scale mining to the habitat of the world largest run of wild sockeye salmon.

The Biden administration and the EPA have committed to consult tribes in their decision-making process, but this should have taken place before this announcement was made, UTBB Executive Director Alannah Hurley said.