WASHINGTON – The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it will ask a federal court to allow the agency to vacate its own prior decision to lift safeguards against Pebble Mine, the massive open-pit gold and copper mine proposed for construction at the headwaters of Bristol Bay, in southwestern Alaska.
EPA’s decision to request a “remand with vacatur”—is an explicit acknowledgement that its own withdrawal of protections for Bristol Bay during the prior administration was unlawful. Vacating EPA’s earlier action will effectively reinstate a 2014 “proposed determination” by the EPA under section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act that would, if completed, permanently protect Bristol Bay, the world’s most productive wild salmon fishery, from large-scale mining.
The following is a statement from Joel Reynolds, senior attorney and western director for NRDC (the Natural Resources Defense Council):
“It’s clear today that EPA is listening. Tribal, business and community leaders, along with millions of supporters, have been fighting the destructive Pebble Mine for more than a decade, urging the agency to save this national treasure. This decision will restart an in-depth agency process, and we’ll be fighting every step of the way to permanently protect the world’s greatest wild salmon fishery and the homeland of the Yup’ik, Dena’ina, and Alutiiq peoples.”
The Obama-Biden administration initiated the EPA 404(c) process in 2010, in response to a petition by six Bristol Bay tribes. After a three year scientific risk assessment, the agency proposed safeguards in 2014. But the Trump administration, in 2017, abruptly halted and reversed the process before finalizing protections, without regard to science or even consulting the agency’s own technical staff, and in 2019 withdrew the process entirely.
Bristol Bay’s salmon fishery generates $2.2 billion in annual revenue and 15,000 jobs. In 2021, the salmon run totaled over 65 million fish. Salmon have sustained the subsistence culture of Alaska Natives for millennia.
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NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at www.nrdc.org and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.