Today–after 13 years, 7 public input periods, and more than 4 million comments of support–the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued a final determination under the Clean Water Act 404(c) that prohibits mine waste from being disposed of in the rivers and wetlands in and near the Pebble deposit. This is a huge victory for everyone who has been involved in working to protect the fragile habitat at the center of Alaska’s Bristol Bay.
Orvis president Simon Perkins has remarked on some of the bigger messages of this conservation success:
Says Orvis President Simon Perkins,
“Today is an example of prioritizing the natural resource and all groups who benefit from it. Two important takeaways from this victory are that conservation takes a sustained effort, and that it has the power to unite us, from the commercial fishing industry to mining experts, to local Alaskans and native tribes, environmentalists and economists, and of course hunters and anglers. More than a decade’s worth of work by many paved the way to this decision. We have seen the power that a natural resource like Bristol Bay has to unify, and it’s a powerful reminder of the impact the natural world has on all of us.
According to the EPA website:
Section 404(c) authorizes EPA to prohibit, restrict, or deny the discharge of dredged or fill material at defined sites in waters of the United States (including wetlands) whenever it determines, after notice and opportunity for public hearing, that use of such sites for disposal would have an unacceptable adverse impact on one or more of various resources, including fisheries, wildlife, municipal water supplies, or recreational areas. [emphasis added]
These protections are only used in very special circumstances and have been invoked only 13 times since 1972–mostly by Republican administrations. The Bristol Bay 404(c) was originally requested in 2010 by local Tribes, and commercial and sport-fishing groups. There have been multiple robust scientific assessments and reviews (with representatives from the mining industry included) and overwhelming and unwavering public support for finalizing 404(c) in Alaska and beyond.
The Pebble Mine project–which would have created the world’s largest open-pit mine at the headwaters of Alaska’s Bristol Bay watershed–was a threat to the last great wild-salmon run on the planet, as well as an ecosystem that supports everything from brown bears, to bald eagles, to rainbow trout, to hundreds of other species. It’s also an ecosystem that supports thriving sport-fishing and commercial-fishing industries, as well as a way of life that indigenous people have treasured for millenia.
Orvis has been engaged in this fight from the beginning, and we both thank and congratulate all those who have done their part by writing letters and emails, donated to the cause, and advocated for protections in other ways.