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“Bristol Bay is one of the last places on Earth …”
“…with such bountiful and sustainable harvests of wild salmon.”
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency when proposing in 2014 to restrict development of the Pebble deposit in Alaska’s pristine Bristol Bay watershed
But this wealth could be destroyed.
The Pebble Mine could lay waste to Bristol Bay.
We still have time. Together, we can save Bristol Bay.
  • Deb from Aleknagik, AK:“I am from the area that this mine would affect. The king salmon that we depend on spawn in the area …”
  • Deb from Aleknagik, AK:“… If the mine contaminates that watershed, we will have no more king salmon …”
  • Deb from Aleknagik, AK:“… 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.”
  • Leilani from Togiak, AK:“Salmon runs in our blood. It feeds an entire nation. Why jeopardize a way of life with something that cannot sustain a people?”
  • Craig from Homer, AK:“I am a 40-year resident of Alaska and depend on fish from the Bristol Bay Drainage to feed my family …”
  • Craig from Homer, AK:“… Please do not allow development of the Pebble Mine. That simple.”
  • Detricia from Anchor Point, AK:“I have fished in Bristol Bay. It is the home of the largest salmon run in the world. Nothing should be allowed that could threaten it …”
  • Detricia from Anchor Point, AK:“… A mine is short term, but the salmon are forever.”
  • Peter from Miami, FL:“The greatest value of Alaska is its wilderness, not what's to be taken out of the ground at Pebble Mine.”
  • Robert from Anchorage, AK:“Mineral extraction should not sacrifice an industry which is a sustainable resource for the country and the wildlife …”
  • Robert from Anchorage, AK:“ … Wild salmon is a precious resource, as is our clean water. Let us not destroy both for generations to come.”
  • Patrick from Seward, AK:“As an Alaska resident, I don't know anyone except this mining company who wants this mine! …”
  • Patrick from Seward, AK:“… Alaskans have had to stop numerous attempts at approving this Pebble Mine.”
  • Audrey from Fairbanks, AK:“Bristol Bay and our salmon are priceless. The people of Alaska have overwhelmingly spoken out AGAINST the Pebble Mine …”
  • Audrey from Fairbanks, AK:“… It's a disaster in the making and it has no place here. Please put the final nail in the coffin on this project and save Bristol Bay.”
  • Okkyu from New York, NY:“We have to protect Alaskan wilderness. When it's gone, there will be no return.”
  • Sheryl from Anchorage, AK:“As a born and raised Alaskan, with ties that go back many generations to Bristol Bay and her salmon, I am deeply disturbed …”
  • Sheryl from Anchorage, AK:“…by the idea of this mine at the headwaters of the most awesome salmon spawning region of the world. Please, protect this region.”
  • Gina from Saint Albans, WV:“As a West Virginia resident, I know all too well how damaging mining operations can be to local ecosystems.”
  • Kristine from Juneau, AK:“I have lived here in Alaska, for 36 years now …”
  • Kristine from Juneau, AK:“… precisely because I want to be away from the kind of desecration I was observing happening around my original home state of Washington …”
  • Kristine from Juneau, AK:“… I saw my favorite dive spots get destroyed by sewage outfalls and marine fuel spills …”
  • Kristine from Juneau, AK:“… Copper mining is one of the most ecologically damaging kind of mining …”
  • Kristine from Juneau, AK:“… After digging an immense scar into the land, it leaves behind dreadfully toxic materials …”
  • Kristine from Juneau, AK:“… I want my children's children's children to have the same healthy, beautiful place to live in that I have …”
  • Kristine from Juneau, AK:“… Put an end to short-sighted, short-term greed. That bell cannot be unrung once you ring it.”

“Bristol Bay is one of the last places on Earth …”

The Mulchatna River lies at the heart of the Nushagak watershed.
EPA Photo

“…with such bountiful and sustainable harvests of wild salmon.” U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, when proposing in 2014 to restrict development of the Pebble deposit in Alaska’s pristine Bristol Bay watershed

The Mulchatna River lies at the heart of the Nushagak watershed.
Ben Knight / Trout Unlimited

But this wealth could be destroyed. The Pebble Mine could lay waste to Bristol Bay. We still have time. Together, we can save Bristol Bay.

  • Deb from Aleknagik, AK:“I am from the area that this mine would affect. The king salmon that we depend on spawn in the area …”
  • Deb from Aleknagik, AK:“… If the mine contaminates that watershed, we will have no more king salmon …”
  • Deb from Aleknagik, AK:“… 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.”
  • Leilani from Togiak, AK:“Salmon runs in our blood. It feeds an entire nation. Why jeopardize a way of life with something that cannot sustain a people?”
  • Craig from Homer, AK:“I am a 40-year resident of Alaska and depend on fish from the Bristol Bay Drainage to feed my family …”
  • Craig from Homer, AK:“… Please do not allow development of the Pebble Mine. That simple.”
  • Detricia from Anchor Point, AK:“I have fished in Bristol Bay. It is the home of the largest salmon run in the world. Nothing should be allowed that could threaten it …”
  • Detricia from Anchor Point, AK:“… A mine is short term, but the salmon are forever.”
  • Peter from Miami, FL:“The greatest value of Alaska is its wilderness, not what's to be taken out of the ground at Pebble Mine.”
  • Robert from Anchorage, AK:“Mineral extraction should not sacrifice an industry which is a sustainable resource for the country and the wildlife …”
  • Robert from Anchorage, AK:“ … Wild salmon is a precious resource, as is our clean water. Let us not destroy both for generations to come.”
  • Patrick from Seward, AK:“As an Alaska resident, I don't know anyone except this mining company who wants this mine! …”
  • Patrick from Seward, AK:“… Alaskans have had to stop numerous attempts at approving this Pebble Mine.”
  • Audrey from Fairbanks, AK:“Bristol Bay and our salmon are priceless. The people of Alaska have overwhelmingly spoken out AGAINST the Pebble Mine …”
  • Audrey from Fairbanks, AK:“… It's a disaster in the making and it has no place here. Please put the final nail in the coffin on this project and save Bristol Bay.”
  • Okkyu from New York, NY:“We have to protect Alaskan wilderness. When it's gone, there will be no return.”
  • Sheryl from Anchorage, AK:“As a born and raised Alaskan, with ties that go back many generations to Bristol Bay and her salmon, I am deeply disturbed …”
  • Sheryl from Anchorage, AK:“…by the idea of this mine at the headwaters of the most awesome salmon spawning region of the world. Please, protect this region.”
  • Gina from Saint Albans, WV:“As a West Virginia resident, I know all too well how damaging mining operations can be to local ecosystems.”
  • Kristine from Juneau, AK:“I have lived here in Alaska, for 36 years now …”
  • Kristine from Juneau, AK:“… precisely because I want to be away from the kind of desecration I was observing happening around my original home state of Washington …”
  • Kristine from Juneau, AK:“… I saw my favorite dive spots get destroyed by sewage outfalls and marine fuel spills …”
  • Kristine from Juneau, AK:“… Copper mining is one of the most ecologically damaging kind of mining …”
  • Kristine from Juneau, AK:“… After digging an immense scar into the land, it leaves behind dreadfully toxic materials …”
  • Kristine from Juneau, AK:“… I want my children's children's children to have the same healthy, beautiful place to live in that I have …”
  • Kristine from Juneau, AK:“… Put an end to short-sighted, short-term greed. That bell cannot be unrung once you ring it.”

Add your voice

Fish Eye Guy Photography
The Mulchatna River lies at the heart of the Nushagak watershed.

Proposed Pebble Mine

Bristol Bay

How we got here: Pebble Mine Timeline

Oct. 9, 2019

The Latest Earthjustice, representing Earthworks, files a lawsuit on Oct. 9 charging the U.S. EPA with breaking the law when it withdrew a 2014 Proposed Determination setting out protections for Bristol Bay.

For more than a decade, the threat of a huge, open-pit copper and gold mine has loomed over the heart of pristine salmon spawning territory in Bristol Bay, Alaska.

The proposed Pebble Mine would directly impact the world’s greatest sockeye salmon run, putting in jeopardy thousands of American jobs, a cultural tradition of subsistence dating back 10,000 years, and a robust sport-fishing and tourism economy.

In a climate shaped by the Trump administration’s coziness with polluting industries, the company behind Pebble Mine is trying to sneak a permit through Clean Water Act regulations with the dubious promise of sticking to what it views as a “small” mine.

Yet even as proposed, the project entails mining a pit over a mile long, a mile wide and 200 meters deep, destroying nearly 3,500 acres of wetlands, lakes, and ponds and 81 miles of salmon streams. And that only includes waters directly displaced by mine facilities, not the thousands more acres that would be fragmented, dewatered, and covered with dust from the mine.

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

The 20-year proposal includes laying a 187-mile-long natural gas pipeline, constructing an 84-mile-long private transportation route crossing more than 200 streams and Iliamna Lake, and building dams and embankments that would block critical salmon habitats.

The lead agency reviewing the key federal permit for the proposed Pebble Mine released a draft this year of the most important document in the process, opening the door to a massive, environmentally destructive mine.

We must make it clear to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that the Pebble Mine should not advance in Bristol Bay, due to risks it poses to the region’s fisheries.

The Timeline of Pebble Mine
May 2010

Petition: Six Bristol Bay tribes ask EPA to protect the Bristol Bay watershed from the Pebble Mine. Many voices join the initial petition.

Jan 2014

Assessment: EPA releases an assessment three years in the making, analyzing the effects of mine scenarios on the Bristol Bay watershed. The analysis concludes a mine could have unacceptable impacts.

July 17, 2014

Determination: EPA issues a Proposed Determination to restrict the use of parts of the Bristol Bay watershed to dispose of material from mining.

May, Sept, Oct 2014

Developers sue: Pebble Mine developers bring three lawsuits against EPA, asking the court to throw out the watershed assessment and Proposed Determination.

Feb 17, 2017

New EPA head: Newly elected President Donald Trump appoints Scott Pruitt as EPA Administrator.

May 1, 2017 9:15am ET

EPA Head, Pebble CEO Meet: EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt meets with the CEO of Pebble Mine.

May 1, 2017 10:36am ET

Email sent directing withdrawal: Without consulting agency staff, EPA Headquarters sends an email to staff that says, in part, "we have been directed by the Administrator to withdraw [the proposed protections]", in documents uncovered by a CNN investigation.

May 11, 2017

Settlement: EPA settles with Pebble developers, agreeing to consider withdrawing its prior determination.

July 19, 2017

Backpedaling: EPA proposes to withdraw its prior determination to protect the Bristol Bay watershed.

Oct. 17, 2017

Public Speaks Up: A 90-day public comment period concludes. The EPA was taking comment on its proposal to withdraw its prior determination. Tens of thousands of concerned members of the public tell the EPA—again—to protect wild Bristol Bay salmon and all the people who depend on them.

Jan. 26, 2018

EPA Reversal: In a turn of events, EPA suspends—for now—its proposal to withdraw the Proposed Determination to protect Bristol Bay. The fight to save Bristol Bay continues, with the agency stating, "This decision neither deters nor derails the application process of Pebble Limited Partnership’s proposed project."

Mar. 1, 2019

Army Corps Advances the Project: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers — the federal agency leading the process to permit the Pebble Mine — publishes a rushed and incomplete draft Environmental Impact Statement. The Corps accepted public comments during a 120-day comment period that concluded on Jul. 1, 2019, receiving more than 94,000 messages from the public.

Oct. 9, 2019

Lawsuit Filed: Earthjustice, representing Earthworks, files a lawsuit charging the U.S. EPA with breaking the law when it withdrew a 2014 Proposed Determination setting out protections for Bristol Bay.

Return to Feature
The Bristol Bay watershed is worth fighting for. We will not let the Army Corps turn its back on Bristol Bay.

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 14,000 jobs and Alaska’s $1.5 billion fishing economy.

Join Earthjustice in this continued fight for one of our world's surviving great ecosystems. We are committed to representing those who oppose unlawful and ill-advised mining in the vast expanse of Alaska and British Columbia.

Our Alaska-based attorneys wield extensive expertise in this arena, both on a national scale and in our Juneau office, which has battled some of the region’s worst hard rock and coal mine proposals.

The Bristol Bay watershed is a treasure chest of wild salmon for the world.
Salmon in the Bristol Bay watershed.
Courtesy of Fish Eye Guy Photography
Salmon in the Bristol Bay watershed.

Wild Bristol Bay salmon feed people all across the country and the world. For the Alaska Native people who comprise the majority of the Bristol Bay area population, and whose cultures can be described as “salmon-based,” salmon have a significance even beyond sustenance and wealth.

Well aware of what they stood to lose, six Alaska Native tribes in Bristol Bay petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2010 to protect this beloved watershed from Pebble Mine. They were soon joined by a large, diverse group of people who also depend on the fishery, including more Bristol Bay tribes and tribal organizations, commercial and recreational fishermen, seafood processors and marketers, chefs, restaurants, supermarket owners, sport fishing and hunting lodge owners and guides.

Under the Obama administration, the EPA heard them. Following a multi-year rigorous, peer-reviewed scientific study of how important the watershed is and why, the agency found that even the smallest Pebble Mine would irreversibly damage the Bristol Bay ecosystem.

Things have changed dramatically under the Trump administration.

Fishing for sockeye salmon in the Egegik fishing district in Bristol Bay.
Photo / Chris Miller - csmphotos.com
Fishing for sockeye salmon in the Egegik fishing district in Bristol Bay.

In February 2019, in a rushed process totally out of proportion with the project’s extensive destructive impacts, the Army Corps released its Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). The agency focuses its analysis on Pebble’s 20-year proposal, barely even mentioning potential impacts of expanding the mine. Meanwhile, Pebble consistently tells their investors that Pebble Mine will grow beyond the proposal the Army Corps analyzed and will last generations.

This bait and switch lurks behind all the rosy promises in the Draft EIS.

Despite the slapdash analysis and gaping holes in the Draft EIS, the document offers some glimpses of an alarming future.

For one thing, Pebble envisions treating tens of billions of gallons of wastewater per year in perpetuity after the mine closes. That volume of water treatment would be unprecedented among U.S. mines, and if it should ever fail, metals and other pollutants harmful to fish and public health will be released into the watershed.

Nor is the Army Corps’ conclusion on the likelihood of a tailings dam failure — in which an embankment holding back harmful mine waste splits apart by accident and releases a flood of toxic pollutants into the watershed — considered realistic.

While the Draft EIS suggests that any tailings failure would be miniscule, scientific literature and actual examples of such disasters occurring throughout the world contradict such a finding. A geophysicist who produced a model on behalf of Bristol Bay fishermen found toxic mine tailings released into a river could be carried for 100 kilometers from the mine site.

The Draft EIS also fails to include a Health Impact Assessment, despite Bristol Bay communities specifically requesting that the government examine vital human health concerns associated with Pebble Mine.

Fishermen in the Bristol Bay watershed.
Courtesy of Fish Eye Guy Photography
Fishermen in the Bristol Bay watershed.

The Draft EIS is the central document that analyzes impacts from Pebble Mine and will be used by state and federal agencies as they consider granting Pebble’s Clean Water Act Section 404 permit. Its submission triggered a 120-day public comment period that concluded on Jul. 1, 2019, receiving more than 94,000 messages from the public.

The proposed Pebble mine poses a significant and unacceptable risk to the fish, water, and fish-based industries of the region, and has the potential to destroy the critical cultural heritage and food supply that Alaska Native tribes in the area have relied on for millennia.

The Corps’ analysis is inadequate. It fails to properly account for impacts from inevitable future expansion beyond the 20-year proposal, the immense challenges of perpetual high-volume water management and treatment, and the risk of losing perhaps the world’s best remaining wild salmon fishery.

Bristol Bay is no place for Pebble Mine.

The only option that will protect Bristol Bay is the “No Action Alternative.” Pebble should not receive its Clean Water Act permit.

The Army Corps needs to hear from Americans that Pebble’s proposed mine is an unacceptable threat to Bristol Bay’s unique and critical natural resources. 

Map of Earthjustice offices.

Earthjustice’s Alaska Office has locations in Juneau and Anchorage.

Famed for its immense wilderness and abundant wildlife, the state is home to our country's only Arctic region, the Tongass National Forest, and a rich Alaska Native culture that dates back millennia. Since 1978, attorneys in our Alaska regional office have safeguarded public lands, waters and wildlife from destructive oil and gas drilling, mining and logging. Learn more.