Economy

EPA reverses course, opts to maintain protections for Alaska's Bristol Bay watershed

EPA reverses course, opts to maintain protections for Alaska's Bristol Bay watershed

The proposed Pebble Mine is located about 200 miles southwest of Anchorage and roughly 100 miles upstream from the Bristol Bay watershed, one of the world's most important sockeye salmon fisheries.

In the EPA's latest decision, released late 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".

This decision neither deters or derails the application process now under way on the mine project, but their permit application must clear a high bar, because EPA believes the risk to Bristol Bay may be unacceptable, the EPA said in a statement issued on January 26. "Until we know the full extent of that risk, those natural resources and world-class fisheries deserve the utmost protection".

The EPA proposed past year to "reverse clean water safeguards" for the Bristol Bay watershed, paving the way for a massive gold and copper mine to be built in the region. The report determined that mining on the scale of the proposed Pebble Mine would have "unacceptable adverse effects" on the watershed. The agency soon after moved to consider undoing Obama-era proposed development limits.

Pebble Limited Partnership, a subsidiary of the Canadian mining company Northern Dynasty Minerals, announced a new investor and submitted its first permit application to build the mine last month.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Friday halted plans to withdraw proposed restrictions on mining activity near a major Alaska salmon fishery, drawing praise from opponents of the Pebble Mine project.

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Robert Heyano, president of United Tribes of Bristol Bay, heralded the announcement as another milestone for Bristol Bay, saying it shows the power of local people, speaking in a united voice that "can still be heard above the noise of today's partisan politics". "These proposed protections, the fact that the Trump administration is choosing to keep them on the shelf, is a recognition. that the Pebble Mine is too toxic, even for the Trump administration", she said. "However, their permit application must clear a high bar, because EPA believes the risk to Bristol Bay may be unacceptable". And for years, there has been a continuous legal battle between the EPA and other parties associated with the Pebble Mine project.

The Bristol Bay watershed, which has been protected by an Obama administration EPA protection since 2014, supplies "half of the world's sockeye salmon" according to CNN.

Alaska Governor Bill Walker, an independent, applauded the decision and thanked Pruitt "for listening to my input and that of thousands of Alaskans" who oppose the mine. In his state of the state address, Walker noted that the Bristol Bay fishery celebrated the harvest of its two billionth salmon past year. The company expressed confidence in its ability to construct and operate a mine that meets required environmental standards.

Tom Collier, CEO of the Pebble partnership, said the EPA's announcement does not deter the project. He said the permitting process "will demonstrate that compliance through an open, objective, transparent and science-driven review".

Fishermen should understand that the announcement does not offer permanent protections to Bristol Bay but that stakeholders will now have additional opportunity to weigh in on the proposed project, UFA said.

A spokesperson for Pebble Limited Partnership declined to comment before deadline.

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