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EPA announces reinstatement of Clean Water Act protections for Bristol Bay, Alaska watershed
Following Ninth Circuit ruling in favor of Trout Unlimited, EPA moves to vacate unlawful 2019 decision to withdraw the Proposed Determination for Bristol Bay and reinstate longstanding proposed protections.
ANCHORAGE, Alaska—Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it would move to vacate its 2019 decision to withdraw proposed protections for Bristol Bay and reinstate the agency’s earlier 2014 Proposed Determination. These proposed protections would limit the amount of waste water and mine waste discharge that could be released in to Waters of the United States in the Bristol Bay region. The announcement comes in the wake of a lawsuit brought by Trout Unlimited against the withdrawal decision and recent ruling in favor of TU by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. TU looks forward to working with the EPA to finalize these protections, which are critical to protecting Bristol Bay’s world-class fisheries.
“This is a smart and significant step toward putting more durable safeguards in place for Bristol Bay’s fish, clean water, communities and businesses,” said Nelli Williams, Alaska director for Trout Unlimited. “This is an important layer of protection that makes it much more difficult for the Pebble Partnership, or any other companies in the future, to mine the Pebble ore deposit. Now is the time to get these much-needed protections across the finish line, and we look forward to working with EPA and Congress to get it done. Let’s put the Pebble mine proposal in the review mirror for good so we can focus on a bright, prosperous and fish-filled future for Bristol Bay.”
“Today’s announcement by the EPA represents a victory for common sense. Blocking industrial-scale mining from Bristol Bay is the right thing to do for the Alaska Native Peoples who have depended on the fishery for millennia,” said Chris Wood, president and CEO of Trout Unlimited. “It is the right thing to do for the 17,000 family wage jobs that the $1.6 billion commercial fishery provides. It is the right thing to for a place that provides half of all of the world’s wild sockeye salmon. Congratulations to the EPA for making the right call and to the thousands of people who fought tirelessly to protect Bristol Bay.”
In 2019, the EPA under the previous administration moved to withdraw the 2014 Proposed Determination for Bristol Bay—a sudden decision based on politics, not the robust scientific record demonstrating the potential for unacceptable adverse effects. Trout Unlimited sued, challenging the EPA’‘s decision as arbitrary and capricious and contrary to the Clean Water Act’s governing standard. In July 2021, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of TU, finding that the EPA could withdraw a proposed determination only if the discharge of materials would be unlikely to have an “unacceptable adverse effect.” Today’s decision by the EPA recognizes that the agency could not meet, that stringent standard, and fully vindicates TU’s legal challenge. TU looks forward to vigorous engagement in the 404(c) process to ensure that strong and lasting protections are established for Bristol Bay.
In November 2020, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers denied a key federal permit for the proposed Pebble mine, concluding that the project could not comply with Clean Water Act standards and that the mine would be “contrary to public interest.” In the wake of that decision, Bristol Bay Tribes, business owners, sport anglers and hunters, tourism operators, commercial fishermen, and thousands of advocates from across the country have called on the Biden Administration to establish permanent safeguards for the southwest region of Alaska.
As wild salmon populations decline globally, Bristol Bay’s prolific wild salmon runs and the economies they support make it a place of international importance. This summer, over 65 million sockeye salmon returned to Bristol Bay, making it a record-breaking year for the world’s largest sockeye fishery. Healthy salmon runs underpin the Bristol Bay region’s economic, social, cultural and ecological well-being. More than 30 Alaska Native Tribes in the region depend on salmon to support traditional subsistence ways of life.
Trout Unlimited, the nation’s oldest and largest coldwater fisheries conservation organization, is dedicated to caring for and recovering America’s rivers and streams, so our children can experience the joy of wild and native trout and salmon. Across the country, TU brings to bear local, regional, and national grassroots organizing, durable partnerships, science-backed policy muscle, and legal firepower on behalf of trout and salmon fisheries, healthy waters and vibrant communities. In Alaska, we work with sportsmen and women to ensure the state’s trout and salmon resources remain healthy far into the future through our local chapters and offices in Anchorage and Juneau.
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