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In another significant blow to the Pebble Mine project in Alaska, the EPA has asked a federal court to allow Clean Water Act protections for parts of Bristol Bay, a body of water that stands to be decimated if the project continues. Environmental advocates and Alaska Native tribes hope that the move will allow the EPA to design long-term protections for the bay and the nearby — and world’s largest — sockeye salmon run.
Why This Matters: Radhika Fox, the head of the EPA’s Office of Water, explained that the bay is “essential to the livelihood and the community well-being of many Alaskan tribes. And it is also one of the most productive salmon fisheries in North America.” Bristol Bay and its fisheries provide nearly half of the world’s annual sockeye salmon catch, along with 14,000 full and part time jobs in the region. Additionally, these natural resources have supported Indigenous communities and cultures for millennia and would be irreplaceable if lost.
The move is one of a series of efforts by environmentalists, Indigenous communities, and the EPA to put an end to the project, which has been mired in controversy, even dividing the nation’s most high-profile conservatives. In 2014, Obama’s EPA invoked the Clean Water Act to halt the progress of the Pebble Mine project, citing that the project “would result in complete loss of fish habitat due to elimination, dewatering, and fragmentation of streams, wetlands, and other aquatic resources.” Still, in 2019, the Trump administration announced it would not stand in the way of the project.
Since then, the project has faced other near-fatal blows. In June, the Alaska Native group, Pedro Bay Corp., voted to allow The Conservation Fund to buy easements on more than 44,000 acres of land, obstructing a major road that the Pebble Mine would require to export ore.
Still, the Pebble Mine Partnership is fighting back. “As the Biden Administration seeks lower carbon emissions for energy production, they should recognize that such change will require significantly more mineral production — notably copper,” Spokesman Mike Heatwole said in a statement. He’s not wrong; the International Energy Agency reported earlier this year that the world will require six times the amount of certain minerals that it produces now to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.
Environmentalists however, say that protecting lands and waters must go hand in hand with reducing emissions. “The Bristol Bay Watershed is an Alaskan treasure that underscores the critical value of clean water in America,” said EPA administrator Michael Regan. “What’s at stake is preventing pollution that would disproportionately impact Alaska Natives, and protecting a sustainable future for the most productive salmon fishery in North America.”
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