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June 25, 2022

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EPA eyes protections for Alaska’s Bristol Bay

Ban would block pit mine in area that sustains salmon

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SEATTLE — The Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday proposed protections for some Bristol Bay drainages, a move that if finalized would effectively block attempts to develop an open pit mine in a southwest Alaska region that sustains the world’s biggest sockeye salmon runs.

The action, announced by the EPA’s Seattle regional office, finds mine development could result in unacceptable impacts on some salmon fishery areas within the Bristol Bay watershed.

“Two decades of scientific study shows us that mining the Pebble Deposit would cause permanent damage to an ecosystem that supports a renewable economic powerhouse and has sustained fishing cultures since time immemorial,” EPA Regional Administrator Casey Sixkiller said in a statement announcing the proposed action under Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act. “Clearly, Bristol Bay and the thousands of people who rely on it deserve the highest level of protection.”

The Bristol Bay region sustains the world’s largest sockeye salmon runs that return to freshwater to spawn and die each summer. This summer, even as some runs of Alaska, Canadian and Northwest salmon struggle, more than 73 million sockeye are expected in a record return to Bristol Bay, according to a state forecast.

Pebble Limited Partnership, the mine developer, calls the Bristol Bay deposit “one of the greatest stores of mineral wealth ever discovered,” including gold, copper, silver and molybdenum.

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