Bristol Bay Wild Salmon Under Threat

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The News

On Friday May 12, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Pebble Limited Partnership released their settlement agreement, ending an ongoing lawsuit that Pebble had filed against the EPA in 2014 in response to the EPA's Proposed Determination under the Clean Water Act's Section 404(c) process.  This lawsuit essentially halted the EPA's efforts under the Obama Administration to proactively protect the Bristol Bay watershed from the proposed Pebble Mine project.

    •    The EPA and Pebble's settlement agreement was a backroom deal brokered between EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and Pebble.  The EPA's own peer-reviewed science was not taken into consideration, nor the requests from Bristol Bay's Native communities, fishermen, and hunters and anglers to uphold the EPA's Proposed Determination.  

    •    Sometime between now and July 12 the EPA will start the process to withdraw its Proposed Determination.  This will likely be a fast-tracked process without a formal public comment period.  Despite the lack of a comment period, the public can (and should) still weigh in and deliver a strong message to Administrator Pruitt that Americans will not trade wild salmon for gold.  Send your message to Administrator Pruitt via Save Bristol Bay's Take Action page.

    •    Follow @savebristolbay for the very latest updates and ways you can help build a line of defense around the world's last great wild salmon fishery.  


A Letter to the Seafood Industry and Defenders of Wild Salmon in Bristol Bay

Dear commercial fishermen, members of the seafood supply chain, business leaders and supporters: 

It is bittersweet writing you today. With the support of our international coalition, I worked with many of you years ago to secure protections for the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery in Bristol Bay from the proposed Pebble Mine. As you know, every year Bristol Bay fishermen harvest between 20-35 million sockeye salmon, accounting for nearly 50% of the world’s sockeye salmon supply. The fishery supports 14,000 jobs and $1.5 billion in economic impact. Pebble Mine is proposed as one of the world’s largest open-pit gold and copper mines in Bristol Bay’s headwaters. Businesses and consumers who depend on access to salmon are jeopardized. As a former Bristol Bay fisherman with many friends and family who still fish in the Bay, this issue is personal. 

As you know, last Friday was a big day for Bristol Bay.  In a backdoor deal straight from a movie script, the EPA under the Trump Administration and Pebble Partnership released their settlement agreement, which - as we suspected it would - undid much of the bi-partisan progress made over the last decade to secure permanent protection for Bristol Bay’s world-class salmon fishery. The EPA and Trump Administration sent a clear message they favor foreign mining companies over American jobs and the food security of our nation.  

With legal matters settled, the agreement also means that we are no longer in a holding pattern.  Therefore, the Save Bristol Bay campaign will be acting quickly to build a line of defense to ensure that Pebble does not move forward. Soon, I will reach back out around concrete next steps you and your business/organization can take. This will include mobilizing our unprecedented international coalition of commercial fishermen, chefs, jewelers like Tiffanys, restaurants, grocers, hunters & anglers, businesses, Native tribes and corporations in a united fashion. 

In the meantime, I want to share a few clips and key takeaways since this is a critical time for all of us to be as informed and engaged as possible.  Please see below…

Media from EPA and Pebble Partnership settlement agreement:

Alaska Dispatch New, May 14 – Even a smaller Pebble mine, as developer now plans, could face high development hurdles

New York Times, May 12 – In reversal, EPA eases path for a mine near Alaska’s Bristol Bay

KIRO, May 12 - Seattle fisheries fear Pebble Mine settlement could lead to controversial project

Alaska Dispatch News, May 12 – Pebble opponents call on EPA to deny developer a deal

What the settlement agreement does – main points:

• Pebble and the U.S. Department of Justice (on behalf of the EPA) will ask the U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska to dismiss the cases with prejudice and to lift the court-ordered preliminary injunction.

• EPA agrees to commence a process to propose to withdraw the currently pending proposed determination, consistent with its regulations. This proposal will be issued within 60 days and will be open to public comment. The length of the public comment period, however, is TBD.

• EPA agrees that it will not move to the next step in its CWA process, which would be to issue a recommended determination (determination steps are: proposed, recommended, final), until 48 months from settlement or until the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issues its final environmental impact statement, whichever comes first.  To take advantage of this period of forbearance, Pebble would have to file its permit application within 30 months.

• Pebble will drop its lawsuits and requests for fees against EPA, and agree to file no new Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests during the pendency of the "forbearance" period.

• EPA may still use its scientific assessment regarding the Bristol Bay Watershed without limitation (good news).

• Bottom line: Permitting for the Pebble Mine could be cleared by 2020. 

The full settlement agreement can be viewed on the EPA’s Bristol Bay page.

Brett Veerhusen


Ocean Strategies Inc.