Groups Urge EPA to Finalize Protections for Bristol Bay

The letter was signed by more than than 120 local, state, national, and international organizations—representing tens of millions of members and supporters.

Credit: Robert Glenn Ketchum

More than 120 local, state, national and international organizations—representing tens of millions of members and supporters—sent EPA a letter urging the agency to protect the indigenous communities and world-class fishery of Alaska’s Bristol Bay from the ongoing threat of large-scale porphyry ore mining like the Pebble Mine by finalizing comprehensive protections under Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act by the end of 2022. 

 EPA published proposed Clean Water Act protections for Bristol Bay last May and is accepting public comments on its proposed determination through September 6. Once the public comment period closes, the next step in the regulatory process is for EPA to issue a recommended, followed by a final, determination. 

In a comment letter submitted on the record today, 122 groups urged EPA to finalize Clean Water Act protections for Bristol Bay by the end of the year. This group comment letter reflects an unprecedented consensus of groups from across Alaska, the nation, and the world—spanning an exceptional spectrum of interests—all of which have concluded that Clean Water Act protection for Bristol Bay is essential. At a time of deep political and social division across the nation, the consensus supporting EPA action to protect Bristol Bay is unparalleled.  

 The letter amplifies another letter groups sent to EPA last year urging action under Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act. It supports the numerous requests made by United Tribes of Bristol Bay, Bristol Bay Native Association, Bristol Bay Native Corporation, and Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation and Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay—the economic, cultural, and social leaders of Bristol Bay. And it complements the recent letter sent by 150 fishing, hunting, and outdoor recreation businesses and organizations calling on EPA to finalize strong and comprehensive Clean Water Act protections for Bristol Bay. 

It has now been more than a decade since Bristol Bay Tribes—and groups including NRDC—first petitioned the EPA for permanent protection under Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act. President Obama visited Bristol Bay in 2015 and promised protection. In 2020, President Biden echoed that promise. EPA issued proposed protections under Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act in 2014—and again in 2022—but has yet to finalize those protections. Until EPA issues a final determination under Section 404(c), the region remains at risk. 

The importance of protecting Bristol Bay is as crystal clear as its legendary waters. This year, a record-shattering 78 million sockeye returned to Bristol Bay—smashing last year’s record of 67 million. These fish drive the most robust and sustainable commercial fishery on the planet, generating $2.2 billion annually, supporting 15,000 jobs, providing 57 percent of the world’s sockeye salmon, and sustaining Indigenous communities. 

Recognizing Bristol Bay’s extraordinary ecological, cultural, and economic importance, the letter urges EPA to immediately finalize 404(c) protections for Bristol Bay:  

The indisputable facts, clear science, and extensive administrative record overwhelmingly support a final 404(c) determination that protects Bristol Bay’s headwaters from not only the mine plan proposed by [Pebble] in 2020, but any future large-scale porphyry ore mining proposed for the Pebble deposit. 

Our groups stand by to support final agency action that ensures the people of Bristol Bay can end the year with strong, durable, and comprehensive 404(c) Clean Water Act protections in place.  

You, too, can stand in support of Bristol Bay. EPA is accepting public comments for one more week. The time to act is now

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