Proposed Bristol Bay protections have never been more important

The diverse coalition of Alaskans working to protect Bristol Bay would like to respond to the recent comments by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency stating major deficiencies in Pebble’s plan and the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), as well as last week’s news that the EPA will resume the withdrawal process for the 2014 proposed determination that would protect the headwaters of the Bristol Bay watershed.

Our diverse coalition formed after six Bristol Bay Tribes petitioned the EPA in 2010 for help protecting the water and land that sustains our communities. The request was quickly supported by commercial and sport fishing groups, and our broad collection of Tribes, Alaska Native Corporations, commercial fishermen, sport fishing businesses and enthusiasts and Alaska-based conservation groups. Together, we seek to protect the world-class treasure that is the Bristol Bay salmon fishery from the proposed Pebble mine.

Since this request was made, major financial backers have abandoned the project, a twice-peer reviewed study found that mining the Pebble deposit would have unacceptable adverse impacts to the fishery, and the majority of Alaskans have continually opposed the project. Now, the EPA has said Pebble’s permit application confirms its prior finding: Pebble Mine cannot safely coexist with the fishery.

The EPA’s multi-year public process and the resulting proposed determination included every stakeholder group – our organizations, state government representatives, scientific experts, Bristol Bay residents and the Pebble Partnership all had seats at the table.

However, the major review now being conducted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers falls short of that standard set by the EPA. The timeline is expedited, making it difficult for those who would be impacted by this project to weigh in; the plan under review is incomplete; and sound science has been pushed aside to make room for less rigorous analyses. We need our leaders to push back on this and call for a halt in Pebble’s permit review. This region demands nothing less than the utmost rigor and care.

The EPA’s comments on the draft EIS are clear: Pebble’s application is severely lacking in detail, the process underway now is not the science-based undertaking that is called for in this situation, and the project would jeopardize the fishery. It is time for our elected leaders to take note and stop this process.

Bristol Bay is a unique and valuable treasure that cannot be put at risk by the proposed Pebble mine, not when the culture and livelihoods of so many are on the line. We look to agencies and elected leaders to respect our wishes and ensure our industry and cultural values are not upended due to a shoddy and politically-motivated mine review. The Pebble Partnership cannot guarantee the safety for Alaska’s most productive salmon fishery. This was first proved in the EPA’s 2014 Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment, confirmed by Pebble’s conduct since 2010, and further defined in the DEIS. EPA’s own comments on the DEIS emphasize this.

The need to uphold EPA’s work and the proposed determination have never been more evident. Pebble’s review process has failed us, leaving Alaskans who depend on the Bristol Bay fishery for our culture and livelihood at risk. To remove long-sought protections without even consulting the Tribes or communities jeopardized by this action would be unacceptable and a grave loss for the culture and economy of Alaska and the nation.

We cannot replace politics with science. Our state, our people, and the resources upon which we depend for our cultures and livelihoods deserve the protections laid out in the proposed determination. To withdraw it, or for Alaska’s elected decision makers to fail to act in accordance with its findings and with the EPA’s most recent conclusions, would devastate Bristol Bay.

Alannah Hurley is a lifelong Bristol Bay resident and executive director of the United Tribes of Bristol Bay. Brian Kraft is the president of Katmai Service Providers. Lindsey Bloom represents Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay. Nelli Williams serves as Alaska program director for Trout Unlimited. Ralph Andersen is the president and CEO of Bristol Bay Native Association. Norm Van Vactor and Robin Samuelson represent Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp. as its president and chairman of its board of directors, respectively.

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Alannah Hurley

Alannah Hurley is a lifelong Bristol Bay resident and executive director of the United Tribes of Bristol Bay.

Lindsey Bloom

Lindsey Bloom is a commercial salmon fisherman with family fishing operations in both Bristol Bay and Southeast Alaska. She currently serves as the chair of the environmental committee for United Fishermen of Alaska, a trade association representing three dozen commercial fishing organizations from fisheries throughout Alaska and its offshore waters.

Norm Van Vactor

Norm Van Vactor is a longtime Bristol Bay fisherman and current CEO of the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation.

Ralph Andersen

Ralph Andersen is the former co-chair of the Alaska Federation of Natives and president & chief executive officer of the Bristol Bay Native Association.