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The Stories You Shared: Americans Give EPA An Earful On Pebble Mine

Save the quiet for the wilderness. In the public arena, we roar. During the recent comment period on protections for Bristol Bay, Earthjustice supporters spoke out in force against Pebble Mine. Here's what they had to say.

The Bristol Bay watershed is rich with salmon, wildlife and salmon-based Alaska Native cultures and is home to the largest sockeye salmon fishery in the world.

The Bristol Bay watershed is rich with salmon, wildlife and salmon-based Alaska Native cultures. It produces an enormous portion of the world’s sockeye salmon catch and possibly the world’s largest Chinook salmon runs.

Photo courtesy of Ben Knight / Trout Unlimited

While public officials are hearing from our attorneys in court, they’re also hearing from you during public comment periods. Here's a look back at a recent campaign where Earthjustice supporters gave voice to the public’s perspective.

The Action Alert: Bristol Bay & Pebble Mine

An hour after meeting with the corporation seeking to build Pebble Mine in Alaska’s Bristol Bay watershed, Scott Pruitt, head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, set in motion plans to withdraw proposed protections for the bay. Pruitt's decision ignored years of peer-reviewed, scientific study and overwhelming community opposition to the open-pit copper and gold mine. Bristol Bay is home to some of the world's last great salmon runs—and could be destroyed by Pebble Mine.

The braided wetlands and tundra of Upper Talarik Creek
The braided wetlands and tundra of Upper Talarik Creek, flowing into Lake Iliamna and then the Kvichak River before emptying into Bristol Bay.
EPA photo

The Pruitt-led EPA asked to hear from the public on their proposal to withdraw protections in an official comment period that concluded on October 17, 2017.

Earthjustice supporters resoundingly spoke up—74,057 from all 50 states and the District of Columbia, surpassing even participation in 2014, when the EPA initially proposed the protections for Bristol Bay. Every two minutes of the 90-day comment period, on average, an Earthjustice supporter was taking a moment out of their day to lend their voice to Bristol Bay. Thank you to all who took action. You joined more than 800,000 in total who submitted their comments to the EPA.

Here's what some of your fellow Earthjustice supporters said:

“The most valuable resource in Bristol Bay is the red gold that returns every year and provides life for the ecosystem, for us, for the world.”
Alaskans have overwhelmingly opposed Pebble Mine.

“Bristol Bay has been my home for generations. The commercial salmon fishery was passed on to me by my grandmother. This is not just my livelihood, it is for countless of others from around the world. This is the last great salmon fishery of the world. The most valuable resource in Bristol Bay is the red gold that returns every year and provides life for the ecosystem, for us, for the world. Make the right choice, listen to the people that live and breathe Alaskan salmon.” —Supporter from Soldotna, AK

“Fish are—or can be—forever. Minerals, and mining companies, come and go. The people of Alaska do not want the Pebble Mine, and this has been made abundantly clear.” —Tok T., Kenai, AK

“I am from the area that this mine would affect. We cannot eat money or the metals that will be taken from the ground. But if we protect this fishery, we will eat for another thousand years.” —Supporter from Aleknagik, AK

“I live in Southeast Alaska. My brother-in-law was a fish captain for 38 years, my daughters have worked in fish packing plants for college money, my son works at a fish hatchery as a fish tech. Alaska feeds the world with our high quality, wild raised, locally caught, sustainable fisheries of the best wild salmon in the world. Bristol Bay is key to our livelihood and economy as well as intrinsic in our native heritage. It all depends on pristine rivers and streams, clean, wild country and clean air. So many fishery stocks around the world are being depleted that it should be made a crime to desecrate any more land or streams that make it possible to raise these amazing salmon species in their natural habitat.” —Kristine T., Juneau, AK

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“This place is where I learned how to work hard and to learn about culture.”
People who have worked and fished Bristol Bay want these protections.

“My family has run a fishing business out of Bristol Bay generations after generations. This place is where I learned how to work hard and to learn about culture. I can't see a mine coming in that will only last a few, 10 years, ruin the last biggest salmon fishing, forever to come. We can't physically live without our business, and our world will continue to break without this vital fishery. Please, please do not let this mine happen.” —Tess R., Salt Lake City, UT

“During the school year, I am a teacher at Lake Quinault, where I graduated. During the summer, I go up to Bristol Bay every year and gillnet out of Egegik, AK—right in the heart of Bristol Bay. I see firsthand the importance of this sockeye run, and I know fully the consequences of losing such a run. It would be a disaster, and everyone knows it, even the people behind the Pebble Mine. There is no such thing as a "clean" mine. It is physically impossible. Pebble Mine would be the worst ecological decision this country has ever knowingly agreed to.” —Chris C., Quinault, WA

“I am a 35-year veteran of being a fisherman in Bristol Bay. There is no way that a large-scale open pit mine could exist within that watershed without causing irreparable damage. The EPA has already determined that this is a bad idea. Science and mine experience has determined this to be a dangerous potential for mishap. We, as stewards of the earth, have a responsibility to protect the greatest salmon run on this planet.” —Supporter from Glennallen, AK

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“One less mine in the world would be no great loss in my estimation. The extinction of more animal species would.”
The EPA has a duty to protect the irreplaceable Bristol Bay and its salmon.

“One less mine in the world would be no great loss in my estimation. The extinction of more animal species would. Think before you destroy something that cannot be replaced. We, and your office should epitomize this, are the stewards of nature, not its master.” —James H., Rochester, MN

“I am forever moved by a statement from a National Park Ranger in Alaska who said, ‘Even though I have never seen the Liberty Bell, I believe it is worthwhile to protect it.’ I haven't seen either, but I believe that we need to think beyond ourselves and protect what we have. Please protect the Bristol Bay watershed.” —Donna H., Honeoye Falls, NY

“In 100 years, no one will care about the wealth created, but everyone will suffer from the loss of this ecosystem and the food it creates.” —Robert A., Berkeley, CA

“Bristol Bay epitomizes the aquatic resources that EPA was entrusted to protect through the Clean Water Act 404(c) review process, and it has done so correctly. You have a sacred moral obligation, as well as a legal responsibility as EPA Administrator, to protect this priceless, vital aquatic ecosystem. The Clean Water Act enshrines America's determination that certain levels of aquatic ecosystem destruction are unacceptable, and the transparent, scientifically rigorous process conducted by EPA found correctly that Bristol Bay epitomizes this category. The fishery represents a multi-million dollar industry whose impact is felt across the country. This ecosystem is a priceless treasure; the minerals and the trinkets they would be used to manufacture are not.” —Jim S., Gatlinburg, TN

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“How many years and how many ways do we have to say that we do not want Pebble Mine?”
The public and scientific researchers have already weighed in against the mine.

“Alaskans have been fighting this mine for more than a decade and have shown overwhelmingly over and over again that we do not want this mine! How many years and how many ways do we have to say that this is our state and we do not want Pebble Mine?” —Christina S., Seward, AK

“This issue has been studied, and a conclusion has been accepted. The people are against this mine. We have fought it. Scott Pruitt is not qualified to overturn the public process that reached these conclusions. It is a waste of time and taxpayer dollars to redo the process. No one wants this mine except people who will profit from it at the expense of the salmon and environment. This is an appalling misuse of government power and ignores the people's voices. This is not democracy. We will fight this. I live in Washington State—our salmon are important to me and to our orca whales. One man, Pruitt, will not ruin our salmon runs. We will save our salmon.” —Cynthia F., Snohomish, WA

“We all agreed this was the wrong move once before. Let's save ourselves the trouble and not bring it up again.” —Sherry O., Boulder, CO

“For a decade, we Alaskans have said a resounding 'NO' to the Pebble Mine. The EPA did a thorough scientific review and it showed that the mine would have an unacceptable impact on one of the world's last remaining vibrant salmon fisheries. Bristol Bay deserves to be protected.” —Carole H., Anchorage, AK

“I used to work as a cashier in a grocery store, and one of my co-workers wore a simple button to stop Pebble Mine. This was years ago! I understand how big money speaks, but it has no soul. Please keep the land wild, and consider your local sustainable economy over non-local big money interests.” —August H., Stevenson, WA

“Every single person that I know that has ever lived in or visited Bristol Bay is opposed to this mine—that includes a whole range of biologists, NPS employees, commercial fishermen, wilderness fishing guides and hundreds of visitors. I have followed this proposal for years and am appalled that the careful work of the EPA is being ignored. This mine would be tremendously destructive to an incomparable ecosystem.” —Karen J., Jackson, WY

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“East Coast rivers once had salmon until they were unsuitable. Bristol Bay is the last outpost for salmon.”
People who have seen what was lost in other salmon runs want these protections.

“I attended a small presentation in D.C. made by the Alaskans affected. I was shocked to learn that East Coast rivers once had salmon until they were unsuitable. Bristol Bay is the last outpost for salmon and it is the one fish that is highly recommended for good health. Do not permit Pebble Mine to proceed. We need this last clean watershed for salmon. Please, please to do not let money overrule the livelihood of these Alaskans and a source of health for us all!” —Leslie B., Pasadena, MD

“My brother worked hard to restore the salmon population in Oregon. I'm signing in his memory. We do not need to destroy a natural industry to enact a destructive one.” —Mary K., West Branch, IA

“Efforts are being made in California to restore our salmon fishery, but it's all experimental and would destroy intact riparian ecosystems in our Central Valley, in the hopes more salmon will spawn. We blew it by damming up all the rivers and damming waterways (for agriculture) so the salmon cannot get from the ocean back to their spawning grounds. Please don't let Bristol Bay's salmon fishery be ruined also.” —Maura M., Davis, CA

“Not only do the Native fishermen in Alaska need this area to be healthy and full of biodiversity, but so do we. Biodiversity in general is key to the economic future of our next generations. My great grandfather, Swepson Earle, was an early Commissioner of Conservation for the Chesapeake Bay, and he saved that area from pollution and overfishing. Imagine how many billions of dollars worth of commerce have been generated by a cleaner, more stable Chesapeake Bay? Do not allow this mine if this pristine area. Do the right thing—don't be a criminal in the eyes of the future.” —Tobey C., Morro Bay, CA

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“My grandfather and uncles worked in open pit mines in Arizona in the '20s and '30s, and destruction they leave behind is terrible. The land, almost 100 years ago, has still not healed.”
People who have seen the devastation that mines cause want these protections.

“My grandfather and uncles worked in open pit mines in Arizona in the '20s and '30s, and destruction they leave behind is terrible. The land, almost 100 years ago, has still not healed. I beg you not to allow these pits in beautiful Alaska.” —Peggy B., Rowland Hills, CA

“I have witnessed the environmental impacts caused by surface and open pit mining for over 50 years. From the coal strip mining in Ohio where I was born, to the copper mines in Arizona where I worked and now have retired, these mines and their tailings are very destructive. The Pebble Mine would be worse than most due to the impact on the surrounding water habitats. It must not happen!” —John F., Tucson, AZ

“For over 20 years, I worked in the field of water quality and stream restoration here in New Hampshire. I can tell you unequivocally that the most cost-effective way to ensure a healthy environment is to not destroy it to start with.” —Candace D., Hampton, NH

“Having experienced the destructive effects of all forms of mining here in Kentucky, seeing the dead ponds and trees surrounding 'reclaimed' land and the useless farms as well as the flattened mountains, I can't imagine what the huge Pebble Mine will do to the fragile Alaskan terrain and economy. Please don't ignore scientific studies and destroy our planet any more!" —Gayle A., Frankfort, KY

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Fishermen in the Bristol Bay watershed
Fishermen in the Bristol Bay watershed
COURTESY OF FISH EYE GUY PHOTOGRAPHY

Attorneys in Earthjustice's Alaska office, Erin Whalen and Tom Waldo, also submitted a detailed comment on behalf of our clients, Earthworks and the Center for Biological Diversity. Earthjustice is committed to representing those who oppose unlawful and ill-advised mining in the vast expanse of Alaska and British Columbia.

You can read all of the comments submitted by the public at Regulations.gov.

What happens next?

The EPA will decide whether to withdraw the proposed protections for Bristol Bay. If the protections are withdrawn, there will be a public process associated with the mine's permit and its associated review under the National Environmental Policy Act. The corporation behind Pebble Mine may file mine permit applications as early as December. Earthjustice will keep you updated on each important step of the fight for Bristol Bay and when your voice will be next needed.

More actions need your voice:

If you did not have the chance to participate in this comment period, here are some current action alerts that need you:

Your comment matters. Public comments can encourage politicians to make the right decisions, especially at the state and local level. Elected officials pay attention when they see that we are also paying attention. Laws such as National Environmental Policy Act and the Administrative Procedure Act require government agencies to allow the public to comment before adopting or changing regulations. Politicians may try to gut or revoke environmental protections, but they can't credibly claim that no one cares after millions of Americans call or write in to say otherwise.

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