EPA releases proposal to safeguard major Alaska salmon fishery from copper mine

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SEATTLE, WA, July 21, 2014 -- On Friday, July 18, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) formally proposed limitations that would protect one of the world's most valuable salmon fisheries, in Bristol Bay, Alaska, from the risks posed by large-scale mining at the Pebble deposit. Science has shown that development of this mine, which is backed by Northern Dynasty Minerals and the Pebble Limited Partnership, would be one of the largest open-pit copper mines in the world and would threaten one of the world's most productive salmon fisheries.

The Bristol Bay watershed is an area of exceptional ecological value with salmon productivity unrivaled anywhere in North America. The region's streams, wetlands, lakes, and ponds provide intact habitat that supports all five species of Pacific salmon found in North America: Chinook, coho, sockeye, chum, and pink. These salmon populations are critical to the health of the entire ecosystem, which is home to more than 20 other fish species, 190 bird species and more than 40 terrestrial mammal species, including bears, moose and caribou.

In February, the EPA announced it was initiating a process under the Clean Water Act (CWA) to protect the Bristol Bay fisheries from mining of the Pebble deposit (see: "EPA moves to protect world's largest salmon fishery from Alaska mine"). The announcement followed a multiyear scientific study examining the impacts of large-scale copper mining in the Bristol Bay watershed. EPA Region 10 is seeking public comment on its proposal from July 21 to September 19, 2014, and will hold public meetings in Alaska from August 12-15.

EPA's proposal to protect the Bristol Bay watershed outlines restrictions that would protect waters that support salmon in and near the Pebble deposit. These restrictions apply to impacts associated with large-scale mining of the Pebble deposit. No other lands or development are subject to the restrictions. Based on scientific analysis, EPA Region 10 proposes to restrict all discharge of dredged or fill material related to mining the Pebble deposit that would result in any or all of loss of streams; loss of wetlands, lakes and ponds; and stream-flow alterations.

EPA Region 10 has initially concluded that mining the Pebble deposit would affect the South Fork Koktuli River, North Fork Koktuli River and Upper Talarik Creek watersheds. The proposed restrictions are outlined in a document called the Proposed Determination. The restrictions are based on the construction and operation of a 0.25-billion-ton mine. This was the smallest of the three mine scenarios EPA analyzed in the Bristol Bay Assessment and is significantly smaller than the mine presented to Northern Dynasty Minerals investors.

The CWA generally requires a Section 404 permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) before any person places dredged or fill material into streams, wetlands, lakes, and ponds. The USACE authorizes thousands of permits every year, and EPA works with the Corps and developers to resolve environmental concerns so projects can move forward. Under Section 404(c), EPA is authorized to prohibit or restrict fill activities if a project would have unacceptable adverse effects on fishery areas.

The Clean Water 404(c) process allows for substantial input from the public, the state, the mining companies involved with the Pebble deposit, and Alaska Native tribes. EPA Region 10 will review public comments on its proposal and consider next steps in the process, which could include moving toward a Recommended Determination to the EPA Assistant Administrator for Water. EPA Region 10 will also meet with tribes for formal consultation. The Bristol Bay region is home to 31 Alaska Native Villages. Residents of the area depend on salmon both as a major food resource and for their economic livelihood. Nearly all residents participate in subsistence fishing.

See also:

"Two Alaska oil and gas plants resolve industrial stormwater violations"

"EPA moves to protect world's largest salmon fishery from Alaska mine"

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