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A Huge Win for Alaska’s Salmon: EPA Says No to Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay

This page was published a year ago. Find the latest on Earthjustice’s work.

The world’s greatest sockeye salmon run is in Bristol Bay, Alaska. Now, after more than a decade of advocacy by Tribes, local residents, fishers, environmental organizations, businesses, and many others, the EPA has moved to protect these pristine waters from a plan to build a huge, polluting mine.

The proposal known as Pebble Mine would have involved digging a pit over a mile long and a mile wide, destroying over 2,100 acres of wetlands, lakes, and ponds — with massive expansions to follow. Earthjustice challenged EPA’s move to shelve the protection plan under Trump in court in 2019. We are honored to stand with Tribes and other regional leaders in celebrating the Biden administration’s decision to protect this critical wild salmon spawning ground.

Why Bristol Bay Matters

  • One of our world’s surviving great ecosystems, Bristol Bay is a sustainable economic powerhouse for local communities and the lifeblood for Alaska Native cultures who have lived there for millennia.
  • It produces an enormous portion of the world’s sockeye salmon catch and one of the world’s largest Chinook salmon runs, fueling 15,000 jobs and a $2.2 billion fishing economy.
  • For the Alaska Native people who comprise the majority of the Bristol Bay area population, salmon have a significance  far beyond sustenance and wealth.

What We’re Celebrating

  • The EPA’s decision prohibits Pebble’s plan to dump mining waste into the Bristol Bay watershed.
  • Pebble Mine was already on the rocks after the Army Corps of Engineers denied mine developers a key permit in 2020. In that decision, the Corps highlighted many of the concerns that opponents to the project, including Earthjustice, have pointed out all along.

A Long Fight for Protection

  • The proposal to put a huge open-pit mine in salmon territory has been controversial since at least 2010, when six Bristol Bay Tribes asked the EPA to protect the Bristol Bay watershed from the Pebble Mine.
  • After years of scientific research showing how harmful the mine would be, the Trump administration nonetheless moved to put protections for Bristol Bay on ice.
  • Earthjustice and others sued the Trump EPA for this move. A federal appellate court agreed that the EPA needed to reconsider.
  • This ruling cleared the way for Biden’s EPA to make a science-based decision to protect the watershed.

What Happens Next

  • The Jan. 31 decision is an important step in preserving Bristol Bay and its residents’ way of life.
  • There is a good chance that Pebble Mine’s backers will try to challenge the EPA’s actions in court. If they do, they will be violating the wishes of most Alaskans: Two out of three oppose the mine and support these protections.
  • Earthjustice is committed to stopping the exploitation and destruction of Earth’s most irreplaceable lands and waters, including all those on public lands. We are in this fight for the long haul.
  • It will now be more important than ever for elected leaders to continue working to ensure Bristol Bay and its ecosystem will thrive and provide for future generations.
  • Bristol Bay is just one special place that is threatened by an irresponsible mine due to our antiquated mining laws and regulations. We must update our 150-year-old mining laws to ensure mining companies don’t mine special or sacred places, and where they do mine they are held to the highest standards.
Sockeye salmon race through the Alagnak River in Alaska's Bristol Bay watershed.
Sockeye salmon race through the Alagnak River in Alaska's Bristol Bay watershed. (Photo courtesy of Fish Eye Guy Photography)