EPA Moves to Protect Bristol Bay from Pebble Mine

The Environmental Protection Agency announced Friday that they are using section 404 C of the Clean Water Act to halt development of the Pebble Mine in Southwest Alaska.

Section 404 C authorizes the EPA to prohibit or limit projects that would have an unacceptable adverse impact on the environment. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy made the announcement during a teleconference this morning.

Photo by Jason Sear, KDLG - Dillingham
Photo by Jason Sear, KDLG – Dillingham
Pebble Partnership officials touring an APRN reporter around the pebble prospect in 2011.

“Today at my request EPA’s regional administrator Dennis McClarran has sent a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, to the State of Alaska and to the Pebble Mine Partnership stating that we are beginning the section 404 C process to determine how EPA can best use its authorities to protect Bristol Bay rivers streams and lakes from the damage that will inevitably result from the construction operation and long-term maintenance of a large scale copper mine,” McCarthy said.

The Pebble mine site is located on state land near Lake Iliamna at the headwaters of creeks and streams that flow into Bristol Bay near Dillingham and King Salmon, the center of a thriving sockeye salmon fishery considered the world’s largest.

EPA officials said the reason for the decision is that Bristol Bay produces nearly half the world’s sockeye salmon and salmon is also the primary source of subsistence food for local people and the center point for the region’s Native cultures.

The EPA started looking into the impact the mine could have in 2010 at the request of Alaska Native Tribes.

In January they released an assessment which concludes that a large gold,l copper, and molybdenum mine could destroy dozens of miles of salmon spawning grounds and would pose significant risks to the region’s sockeye salmon runs and its people. Alaska’s Attorney General, Michael Geraghty, has said the state will explore all available legal options if 404 C is invoked.

The Pebble Partnership, the company behind the Mine, has not yet submitted a plan or applied to the state for permits needed to develop the mine. The 404 C process should take about a year. The EPA has initiated the 404 C process 29 times and issued restrictions 13 times and only once done so before a project was permitted.