EPA looks to place permanent protections on Bristol Bay by 2022
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has placed dates on the timeline to reinstate Clean Water Act protections on Alaska’s Bristol Bay, with a Federal Register notice posted on Wednesday, 17 November, naming a date of 31 May, 2022, for the finalization of the safeguards.
Permanent protections of the bay are critical to protect its robust salmon fishery, which is projected to produce 71 to 75 million salmon returns in 2022, Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association Board President Michael Jackson said.
Speaking at the Pacific Marine Expo on Thursday, 18 November, in Seattle, Washington, U.S.A., Jackson warned the threat from a planned mining project in the area remained without the Clean Water Act protections in place.
Although the U.S. government rejected Pebble Mine’s initial permit application in November 2020, there’s currently nothing stopping the mine’s owners from submitting a new application, Jackson said.
But Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay Executive Director Katherine Carscallen said the EPA now has robust information on how the project could damage Bristol Bay’s salmon fishery and can use it push ahead to make permanent 404c Clean Water Act protections.
“Nothing has really changed about the mine or how it would impact the salmon,” Carscallen said.
United Tribes of Bristol Bay Deputy Director Lindsay Layland said the region’s tribes are committed to gaining protections for its waters, traditions, and cultures.
“We know better than to celebrate early. If the price for minerals goes up, people are going to want to dig it up. There’s a lot of money in the ground, and someone’s going to want to go get it,” Layland said. “For me this isn’t about how much money we can make, how many fish we can catch. It’s a way of life that could go away.”
The panelists urged all stakeholders to let their legislators know that protecting Bristol Bay is a priority for them, even if they’re not Alaska residents.
The Clean Water Act 404c designation is “a very durable tool for protecting areas,” said David Allnut, a principal at strategic consulting firm Zeno Environmental and a longtime EPA staffer.
“It’s an important tool. EPA’s only used it 13 times,” he said.
Allnut said all of those designations still stand. And if the EPA’s timeline holds, permanent protections for Bristol Bay could be secured by the summer of 2022.
Reporting by Jes Hathaway
Photo courtesy of Doug Stewart