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article imageEPA — Will protect world's most valuable salmon fishery, for now

By Karen Graham     Jan 28, 2018 in Environment
Washington - In a surprise reversal, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it is withdrawing its plan to suspend environmental protections for an area of Alaska that is home to the world’s most valuable wild salmon fishery.
The decision centers around the controversial Pebble Mine project, an open pit copper and gold mine proposed for the headwaters of Bristol Bay, Alaska, home to the most valuable wild salmon fishery on Earth.
For over 15 years, Northern Dynasty Minerals, a Canadian mining company, has wanted to build a gold and copper mine in Bristol Bay. Northern Dynasty CEO Ronald Thiessen, said last year the Pebble project's measured and inferred resources of copper, gold, molybdenum, and silver makes it one of the largest undeveloped mineral prospects in the world.
And for years, there has been a continuous legal battle between the EPA and other parties associated with the Pebble Mine project. It culminated in a 2014 decision by the EPA to propose restrictions employing Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, restrictions that would effectively prohibit the project.
The most abundant salmon species in the watershed is sockeye salmon. The Bristol Bay watershed suppo...
The most abundant salmon species in the watershed is sockeye salmon. The Bristol Bay watershed supports the largest sockeye salmon fishery in the world, with approximately 46% of the average global abundance of wild sockeye salmon.
The May 2017 meeting between Pebble Mine and EPA
Finally, in May 2017 the Pebble Partnership and EPA had a meeting and jointly announced they had reached a settlement agreement to end the legal dispute regarding the EPA's Proposed Determination issued under the Clean Water Act in July 2014. This resulted in the EPA withdrawing the regulatory action while the Pebble Partnership agreed to terminate outstanding lawsuits brought against the EPA.
The aforementioned meeting also saw EPA Chief Scott Pruitt direct his staff to reverse Obama-era protections for Bristol Bay. When CNN broke the story about the "secretive agreement" between Pebble Mine and Pruitt, over 40 Congressional Democrats wrote a letter expressing “deep concern” about the EPA’s reversal.
“I found out from your story that they actually had an agreement,” Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington state told CNN’s Anderson Cooper. “Doing a sweetheart deal for a mining executive, five minutes after he leaves your office, is not the due process that taxpayers want.”
A view of Upper Talarik Creek which flows into Lake Iliamna in the Kvichak River watershed. The wate...
A view of Upper Talarik Creek which flows into Lake Iliamna in the Kvichak River watershed. The watershed supports production of all five species of Pacific salmon found in North America.
Friday's reversal announcement
However, in a decision released on Friday, Pruitt wrote, “it is my judgment at this time that any mining projects in the region likely pose a risk to the abundant natural resources that exist there. Until we know the full extent of that risk, those natural resources and world-class fisheries deserve the utmost protection.”
In the meantime, the EPA will continue to take public comments on the mine, even though the agency has already received well over one million comments against the mine being built. All Pruitt's decision really means is that the proposed Pebble Mine has been "put on hold."
Northern Dynasty Minerals Responds
In a press release dated January 26, Northern Dynasty confirmed the Environmental Impact Statement ("EIS") permitting process for Southwest Alaska's Pebble Project continues to advance under the guidance of lead federal agency, the US Army Corps of Engineers, even though the EPA suspended withdrawal of a pre-emptive regulatory action under CWA 404(c) initiated at Pebble in July 2014.
The bottom line is this - Scott Pruitt is playing to both sides of the stadium. The EPA move on Friday was to appease the opposition and at the same time, Pruitt has also assured Northern Dynasty the federal agency will continue to give the mining company unfettered opportunity to proceed through normal course permitting under the Clean Water Act and National Environmental Policy Act.
More about Epa, bristol bay, Pebble mine, Salmon fishery, Environment
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