The Bristol Bay watershed in southwestern Alaska produces the largest sockeye salmon fishery in the world and is relied upon by more than 30 Alaska Native tribes. It is a huge job-creator and economy booster for Alaska and offers fishing experiences like nowhere else on Earth. All of this has been protected because of the lack of development in the bay, despite attempts to construct mines in the area.
While the Pebble Mine proposal has been around for about fifteen years, the Pebble partnership did not actually apply for a permit until 2017. The primary permit needed by the Pebble mine is a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Clean Water Act “dredge and fill” permit. Before it can issue such a permit, the Army Corps must undertake an environmental review, with input from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The Clean Water Act is a primary Federal law aimed at restoring and maintaining the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the nation’s waters, including the Bristol Bay area.
In 2014 the EPA, proactively issued a “proposed determination,” to deny the Clean Water Act permit, essentially saying the mine posed too great a threat to the salmon-rich waters of Bristol Bay. The decision was based on extensive studies of the ecology of the region and what was known about Pebble’s intentions. The EPA conducted a multi-year rigorous, peer-reviewed scientific study of the watershed and its importance, and then concluded that even the smallest Pebble Mine would irreversibly damage the Bristol Bay ecosystem.
In 2017, Pebble applied for the Clean Water Act permit to the Army Corps. Because of the previous proposed determination by the EPA, this permit could not be approved. However, In 2019, the EPA said it would withdraw its proposed determination against the mine, paving the way for the permit to be approved.
On August 24, grassroots expressions of outrage and pressure from influencers on all sides of the party lines had pushed the Corps of Engineers to take a further look at the real damage this mine will cause. The Army Corps issued a statement that outlined new requirements for fixing the damage done to Bristol Bay by the proposed Pebble Mine. In that letter, the Corps clearly stated that Pebble “would cause unavoidable adverse impacts.” They have given Pebble Limited Partnership 90 days to respond with an updated plan. This is a huge step in the right direction, but it is temporary only. Pebble could still return with an updated proposal that will be accepted. Because of this, we must keep up the pressure.
Latest News: In January 2023, The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency blocked the proposed mine, protecting Bristol Bay.