EPA will use a rare authority under the Clean Water Act to block the proposed Pebble mine and bar similar projects to dig up a massive gold and copper deposit in Alaska’s Bristol Bay watershed, home to one of the world’s premier salmon fisheries.
The agency’s decision marks yet another move by the Biden administration in recent days to protect sensitive areas critical to tribes, including sealing protections for the Tongass National Forest and restricting mining in Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness for decades (Greenwire, Jan. 26).
EPA Administrator Michael Regan said on a call with reporters on Monday that the agency’s final determination under Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act essentially bans waters in the South Fork Koktuli River and North Fork Koktuli River watersheds from being used as disposal sites for material tied to Pebble LP’s proposed 2020 mine plan. Any future mining proposals that would result in “the same or greater levels of loss or change to aquatic resources” compared with the 2020 plan are also banned.
“In 50 years since the passage of the Clean Water Act, EPA has used this authority judiciously,” said Regan, adding that the action “marks only the third time in 30 years that we’ve used the authority, and it underscores the true, irreplaceable and invaluable natural wonder that is Bristol Bay.”
Regan said the final determination, long sought by Alaskan tribes and environmental groups, is “very similar” to an official recommendation EPA’s Region 10 office made last year to prohibit the proposed mine. The office concluded that the project would permanently destroy nearly 100 miles of protected stream habitat and more than 2,000 acres of wetlands and other federally protected waters (Greenwire, Dec. 2, 2022).
Just last month, Pebble LP slammed the impending decision that’s been two decades in the making, saying it was “based on indefensible legal and non-scientific assumptions.”