Friday, the Trump Administration’s Environmental Protection Agency reversed course on the agency’s long standing efforts to protect Alaska’s Bristol Bay and America’s most valuable wild salmon fishery.
In announcing a deal with Canadian-based Northern Dynasty to settle the company’s legal fight, the EPA has agreed to drop its 2014 proposed determination to protect the salmon fishery from the Pebble copper-gold-molybdenum open-pit mine proposal.
It’s hard to believe that the battle to protect America’s most valuable wild salmon fishery from the proposed Pebble Mine continues. Across America, the public has repeatedly voiced its opposition to Pebble, and its support for protecting Alaska’s Bristol Bay salmon fishery and the 14,000 hard-working fishermen it supports.
Commercial fishermen. Seafood processors. Hunters and anglers. Alaska Native communities. Jewelry retail companies. Grocery stores. Chefs. Restaurants. Churches. Scientists. They’ve all said Pebble is a bad idea. And, some of the world’s largest mining companies (Anglo American & Rio Tinto) have walked away from it.
It's good news this week! The Interior Secretary announced a public land order to safeguard 100,000 acres of public lands in southwest Oregon -- renowned for the wild and scenic rivers, prolific salmon and steelhead runs, and exceptionally clear waters. The mineral withdrawal will protect these lands from new mining claims for 20-years to give congress time to consider more lasting protection.
The ancient laterite soils that make this region so unique have attracted mining interests who want to strip-mine for low-grade nickel deposits. Despite broad opposition, the Forest Service says their hands are tied by the archaic 1872 Mining Law, which prioritizes mining over all other land uses. Crazy as it sounds, it’s true. This law, which was enacted when women still wore hoop skirts, still governs hardrock mining on our federal lands today.
In response, key members of the Oregon and California congressional delegation, Senators Wyden and Merkeley and Representatives Defazio and Huffman, responded to local concern, and asked the Interior Department to withdraw these federal lands from mineral entry under the 1872 Mining Law for 20 years, while they push for congress to consider more lasting protection in the Southwestern Oregon Watershed and Salmon Protection Act of 2015 (S. 346 and H.R. 682).
“Allowing mining claims in these areas threatens some of Southern Oregon’s most unique natural treasures,” letter to the Secretary of Interior and Agriculture from Oregon’s Sen. Ron Wyden, Sen. Jeff Merkley and Rep. Peter DeFazio.
In February 2015, the Interior Department got the ball rolling, initiating the mineral withdrawal process. Across the region, local interests jumped in with their support, including commercial fishermen, city and county government, tribes, and scientists. The outstanding natural resources afforded by these public lands are an important economic driver for the region, and provide clean drinking water for downstream communities.
“As the largest trade association of commercial fishing families on the west coast, we at PCFFA (together with IFR) urge you to protect the headwaters of the Wild and Scenic Illinois and Smith Rivers and the Wild Rivers Coast from proposed nickel and other strip mines.” – letter from Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Association.
“Straddling the Oregon-California border, the K-S bioregion contains some of the largest concentration of intact watersheds on the west coast and world renowned biodiversity. These exceptionally high resource values, including several federal candidate and listed species, makes mining incompatible with the resource values and conservation investments in the bioregion.” - U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, September 2015
In April 28, 2016, the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management released their environmental review of the proposed mineral withdrawal for public comment. The response was overwhelming. Hundreds of people packed the public meetings – expressing their support. And, 99.9% of the written comments supported protection.
On January 12, the public land order appeared in the Federal Register to much acclaim.
"Protecting Northern California's spectacular wild and scenic Smith River, the key source of drinking water for many communities and a stronghold for salmon and steelhead, is the only responsible thing to do”, said Congressman Huffman in a press release with Congressman Defazio. “Keeping new mining activities out of the Smith and its tributaries has been an important priority for me, and I have been glad to have such a partner in my friend Peter DeFazio of Oregon, whose district shares the watershed. I am also pleased that the administration is acting on our recommendation to prohibit potentially hazardous mining in this sensitive watershed."
This week, the House Natural Resources Committee held yet another hearing about the controversial Pebble Mine proposed at the headwaters of Alaska’s Bristol Bay. Although the Republican-led hearing was ostensibly about the “appropriate role of NEPA in the permitting process,” it was really just another attempt by the Canadian-based mining company to present itself as a victim in what it considers an unfair process by EPA to place restrictions on waste disposal from the proposed mine.
It was good news all around today for the millions of families that live near polluted industrial sites, and the American taxpayers who have footed the cleanup bill all too often. Today, the Court ordered the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to stop letting polluters off the hook for the contamination they cause.
For 30 years, the EPA has failed to issue rules under CERCLA, the “Superfund” law, to hold industries accountable, up front, for cleanup costs. As a result, company after company has found a way to pass the cost of environmental disasters on to taxpayers.
Today, the U.S. Court of Appeals issued a decision that will help to fix that.
The greater sage grouse is an umbrella species, emblematic of the health of the sagebrush habitat it shares with more than 350 other kinds of wildlife, including world-class populations of mule deer, elk, pronghorn, and golden eagles.
Sage grouse once occupied nearly half a million square miles and numbered in the millions. Now, this iconic Western bird, with its flamboyant dance, occupies a little more than half of its historic range, and its numbers have declined to several hundred thousand.
This week, President Obama traveled to Bristol Bay, Alaska, where he was welcomed with broad smiles and loud cheers by the small community of Dillingham. Despite the rainy weather, the President went out on the beach with commercial and subsistence fishermen to experience the remarkable fishery. And, the salmon obliged.
After an epic year of more than 50 million wild salmon, a few salmon were still passing through. As local leaders explained the significant of the fishery and expressed deep appreciation for his past actions in protecting it, their message was clear. The job isn’t done.
In conjunction with our partners and allies, Earthworks is proud to accept the BENNY award today on behalf of the Bristol Bay campaign to protect the world’s greatest wild salmon fishery from destructive mining. The BENNY awards are issued each year by the Business Ethics Network for successful corporate campaigns to achieve social and environmental change. Read more here.
Over the last few years, Earthworks, Nunamta Aulukestai, Natural Resources Defense Council and other local, state and national allies have worked to convince two mining giants, Anglo American and Rio Tinto, that Bristol Bay is simply the wrong place for large-scale mining. With Anglo American and Rio Tinto’s divestment from the Pebble Project in 2013 and 2014, we are one step closer to lasting protection for this phenomenal ecosystem.
Now, we look to the Environmental Protection Agency to use its authority under Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act to finalize the restrictions against mine waste disposal in the headwaters of Bristol Bay, which it proposed in July 2014. These restrictions will protect the rivers, streams and wetlands that provide vital spawning grounds for the salmon to reproduce, and ensure that the Bristol Bay salmon fishery will continue to supply more than 14,000 annual jobs, produce half of the world’s supply of wild sockeye, and sustain the Alaska Native communities who rely on the salmon as their primary source of food.
Every year, millions upon millions of wild salmon return to the headwaters of Bristol Bay, like no place else on earth. Next year, a surge of more than 53 million wild salmon are predicted to return! Let’s make this the year that Bristol Bay protections are complete.