This week NRDC joined more than 30 leaders from an unprecedented coalition of Alaska Natives, commercial fishermen, sportsmen, business owners, and faith leaders united by one common conviction: EPA should act now to protect Bristol Bay, Alaska from large-scale mining like the proposed Pebble Mine.
The coalition hosted an event on Capitol Hill to discuss EPA’s recently-released Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment and why Clean Water Act protections are needed to protect Bristol Bay’s famed salmon runs – and the $1.5 billion annual commercial fishery, 14,000 jobs, subsistence fishing, sports fishing, communities, and wildlife that the salmon support.
The groups called on EPA to use its authority under Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act to protect Bristol Bay.
“EPA has the scientific basis and legal authority to protect Bristol Bay now,” said Joel Reynolds, NRDC Western Director. Now that EPA has completed its final Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment, which found that the proposed Pebble Mine would cause “significant” and even “catastrophic” harm to the watershed, it must act. The people of the region have demanded it – in overwhelming numbers – and deserve a response.
"We are here to remind EPA that their job is not finished," said Kimberly Williams, Executive Director of Nunamta Aulukestai, which means “Caretakers of Our Land” in native Yup’ik. "We have brought a large delegation to D.C. to tell our story."
“What’s at stake is our indigenous way of life that has thrived in Bristol Bay for millennia,” stressed United Tribes for Bristol Bay program manager Alannah Hurley. “If salmon are destroyed that would devastate the nutritional, social, and spiritual well-being of Alaska Native people in the region. How would our culture survive if this type of development is allowed?”
Bristol Bay Native Corporation Chairman Joseph Chythlook said the “importance of this resource [salmon] is not something we’d be willing to trade.”
Others agreed. "We are here to tell you that these salmon are jeopardized," said Alaska commercial fisherman and consultant for Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay Brett Veerhusen. "My job is jeopardized."
Bristol Bay lodge owner and sportsmen Brian Kraft emphasized that “Bristol Bay sports fishing is hands down the best in the world – there’s nothing better. Salmon is the sole existence for our being.”
The coalition is urging EPA to use its authority under Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act to stop large-scale mining like Pebble Mine in the Bristol Bay watershed. Nine federally recognized tribes from Bristol Bay and others petitioned EPA in 2010 to use its 404(c) authority to protect Bristol Bay. EPA has not yet formally responded to the petition, although it did conduct a scientific assessment of impacts of large-scale mining in the watershed.
EPA has the opportunity to protect both a unique natural resource and an economic powerhouse. And it has both the scientific basis and legal authority to protect Bristol Bay now.
Photo courtesy of Robert Glenn Ketchum