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EPA Mine Waste Plan Brings More Protection for Wild Salmon

21 July 2014

US - An unusual group of Alaska Native leaders, commercial fishermen, investors, jewelers and conservation organizations applauded the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) for its Proposed Determination - a detailed plan for restricting mine waste disposal from the proposed Pebble Mine in Alaska’s Bristol Bay watershed.

The EPA has authority under Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act to restrict mine waste disposal that will harm important fisheries. Alaska’s Bristol Bay supports the largest and most productive wild salmon fishery in the world, supplying half of the world’s supply of wild sockeye salmon and generating 14,000 annual jobs and over $450 million in annual revenue.

“It’s been a long time coming. We’re happy to see the EPA complete the next major step in protecting the Bristol Bay salmon fishery,” said Luki Akelkok, chairman of Nunamta Aulukestai, an association of ten Bristol Bay Native Tribes and Native Village Corporations. “Our culture and economy depend on the long-term health of these salmon runs.”

“As a jeweler whose business depends on precious metals, and therefore mining, we have nevertheless long opposed the development of new mines that threaten areas of high ecological and cultural value,” said Michael J. Kowalski, Chairman and CEO, Tiffany & Co.

He continued: “We applaud the EPA for taking this vital next step under the Clean Water Act to safeguard Bristol Bay and the communities and fishery it supports.”

Alaska Native Tribes and commercial fishermen petitioned the EPA in 2010, asking the agency to use its power under Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act to protect the fishery by restricting harmful mine waste disposal. There is broad support for this approach. Of the 890,000 public comments received by the EPA on its study of mining’s potential impacts on the famed fishery, 98 per cent of Bristol Bay comments, 85 per cent of Alaska comments, and 73 per cent of national comments support EPA action to protect Bristol Bay.

“We asked the EPA to step in to protect our fishery from the Pebble Mine because the State of Alaska wasn’t listening to us,” said Kim Williams, executive director of Nunamta Aulukestai. “The future of our people and 14,000 jobs are at risk. We’re glad the EPA is doing its job.”

“Our nation’s most prolific salmon fishery is one step closer to being protected from toxic mine waste,” said Jennifer Krill, executive director of Earthworks, a national conservation group. “We’ll be looking at the details closely, and participating in the hearings, and encourage everyone else to do so.”

The EPA completed a study of the potential impacts to the salmon fishery from developing the proposed Pebble Mine in January 2014, which found that it would likely result in significant and irreversible harm to the salmon and the people and industries that rely on them.

The steps in the Clean Water Act Section 404(c) review process are:

Step 1 – Consultation period with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and owners of the site.
Step 2 – Publication of Proposed Determination, including proposed prohibitions or restrictions on mining the Pebble deposit, initiated today.
Step 3 – Review of public comments and development of Recommended Determination by EPA Regional Administrator to Assistant Administrator for Water at EPA Headquarters in Washington, DC.
Step 4 – Second consultation period with the Army Corps and site owners and development of Final Determination by Assistant Administrator for Water, including any final prohibitions or restrictions on mining the Pebble deposit.

“We are pleased to see the EPA take this important step towards both regulatory certainty and protection for a vital natural resource,” said Jonas Kron, senior vice president at Trillium Asset Management.

“Investors understand that this science based approach provides for a predictable and stable investment environment that supports sustainable economic development.”

Over 100 jewelers have expressed support for protecting the Bristol Bay watershed. In a recent letter, 29 investors, representing billions in assets, expressed support for the EPA 404(c) process as a responsible approach when considering large-scale mineral development. Commercial fishermen, churches, restaurants, supermarkets, chefs, and other diverse interests have also expressed support for EPA 404(c) action.

TheFishSite News Desk

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