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Bristol Bay tribes remain steadfastly against harmful mining

Robert Heyano

As Bristol Bay has prepared for the new fishing season, the cloud of uncertainty continues to loom over us as the battle to protect our fish and way of life from large-scale mines like Pebble drags on into its second decade. In the past few weeks, we have seen Senator Lisa Murkowski endorse legislative efforts to change the Clean Water Act to restrict the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to address pollution before it happens. We have seen our state government join the Pebble Partnership in federal litigation to forcibly end the Section 404(c) process happening now in Bristol Bay. Finally, we have seen Pebble hire a new Washington, D.C.-based lobbyist as their new CEO who is presently engaged in a national campaign to disparage and discount the people who call Bristol Bay home.

Throughout these events, our communities have stood steadfast in the effort to protect Bristol Bay. One would hope that our region’s position is as clear as our waters: this type of development isn’t welcome here. Yet in spite of the science and the will of the people our elected officials continue to favor foreign mining companies and destructive development projects.

It was our tribes that contacted the EPA, requesting that the agency do something to address mining projects that the state had fast tracked for our region. The agency answered our call and conducted Bristol Bay Watershed assessment to evaluate the potential impacts of mining in our watershed. After four years of study, two peer reviews, and two public comment periods, EPA came out with the most authoritative review of the Bristol Bay watershed to date: a 1,400 page report confirming the devastating impacts on salmon, water, and the Native people who depend on those sustainable resources for their culture, food, and way of life.

Mr. Collier and Pebble, unable to refute the science in the Watershed Assessment, fired back with a myriad of tired talking points. Accusations of “federal overreach” and “unfair agency action” were hurled. All of which, however, ignored the reality that it was the region’s own tribes who sought EPA’s review after years of being rebuffed by the State. Mr. Collier’s mischaracterization of our efforts prove that he is simply another in a line of highly paid Partnership CEOs with no respect and or regard for the people of Bristol Bay.

Pebble then continued its mission to undercut us, next suing the EPA under the theory that the Agency had broken the law by studying the largest proposed copper mine in North America. It came as no surprise when, a week later, the state of Alaska eagerly joined in PLP’s baseless lawsuit.

In the face of all these obstacles, our tribes and the people of Bristol Bay still stand steadfast in our work to protect Bristol Bay. We are welcoming home the first Kings of the fishing season and their return strengthens our will to keep fighting to protect our home.

The tribes and people of Bristol Bay have been on the front lines of this fight since the beginning, and will continue to stand strong for the protection of the watershed. We are confident the Section 404(c) process will survive all the attacks hurled against it by those who seek development regardless of the cost. The fact of the matter is that we will have to live with the costs of this development, not them. Because of this reality we will continue to stand with EPA, as we have always done, to protect our fish and our way of life.

Robert Heyano is a lifelong Bristol Bay resident and the President of the United Tribes of Bristol Bay, a tribal consortium working to protect members' traditional way of life and the Bristol Bay watershed.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.