September 18, 2021

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The Biden administration steps in to protect Alaska’s Bristol Bay

WASHINGTON – On Thursday the Biden administration took the first steps that would allow it to begin the process of protecting Alaska’s pristine nature, Bristol Bay, one of the most valuable red salmon fisheries in the world which is also atop huge deposits of copper and gold long coveted by mining companies.

The administration petitioned the United States District Court for Alaska to overturn a Trump-era ruling that removed environmental protections from Bristol Bay, about 200 miles southwest of Anchorage. If the court agrees, the administration could start developing permanent protections for the area.

In a statement, the Environmental Protection Agency said President Donald J. Trump’s administration acted illegally in 2019 by dismissing fears that a gold and copper mining project could threaten fisheries by lifting protections. feds in Bristol Bay.

The move will have little immediate effect as the Trump administration ultimately denied an essential permit for the project, known as the gravel mine, in 2020. This came after President Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr. and personality of Fox News Tucker Carlson, who both enjoyed hunting. and fishing in the region, along with environmental activists and indigenous tribes to oppose the mine in an unlikely coalition.

But environmental activists noted that the decision to refuse permission from the US Army Corps of Engineers was challenged by the Pebble Limited Partnership, with the company seeking to build the mine. The company wants to dig a trench more than a square mile deep and a third of a mile deep to obtain the metals, estimated at at least $ 300 billion. The project would include construction of a 270-megawatt power plant and 165-mile pipeline, as well as an 82-mile road and large tailings dams, some of which are toxic. It would also be necessary to dredge a port in Iliamna Bay.

At present, nothing is in place to stop another mining project attempt in the region, although the Biden administration’s request to the court is seen as a first step to change the situation.

“I am pleased that the Biden administration has taken this important step to ensure the continued protection of this unprecedented watershed, the salmon and the people it supports,” Washington State Governor Jay Inslee, a Democrat, said in a statement. to the Times. “Mining in the Bristol Bay watershed has reportedly caused irreparable damage to the world’s largest sockeye fishery. “

Federal and state agencies have found that the proposed pebble mine, which would be located in two catchment areas that feed fish-producing rivers, would cause permanent damage. Scientists say it would destroy more than 130 miles of stream, 2,800 acres of wetlands and 130 acres of open water.

During the election campaign, President Biden promised to “listen to the scientists and protect Bristol Bay”.

Praising the region as the base of the native Alaskan lifestyle, a popular destination for fishermen and the source of half of the world’s red salmon, Biden said, “This is no place for a mine. “

President Barack Obama’s administration concluded in 2014, after a three-year scientific review, that the Pebble Mine project could have “catastrophic” effects, including the “complete loss of habitat for fish due to disposal. , the drying up and fragmentation of rivers, wetlands and other aquatic resources ”in parts of Bristol Bay.

Obama’s EPA issued a proposal for determination under a provision in the Clean Water Act that would veto and effectively ban mining in the region. But the agency faced several Pebble Limited Partnership lawsuits, and when Trump took office, the decision was not yet final.

In 2019, the Trump administration, which by then overturned nearly 100 environmental regulations, withdrew the Obama-era designation altogether and denounced it as “obsolete,” citing lawsuits filed by the Pebble Mine company as one of the important news.

Mike Heatwole, a spokesperson for the Pebble Mine Partnership, said in a statement that the company intends to monitor the EPA’s actions to determine the impact on the project and authorization process.

“As the Biden administration seeks to reduce carbon emissions for power generation, it should recognize that such a change will require much more mineral production, especially copper,” he wrote. “The Pebble Project remains an important national source for the minerals the administration needs to achieve its green energy goals.”

In a statement, EPA Administrator Michael Regan said that if the court decides in favor of the Biden administration, the agency will announce a timeline for resuming a trial to protect Bristol Bay development under the Clean Water Act.

“At stake is to prevent pollution that would disproportionately impact Alaskan natives,” Regan said, “and to protect a sustainable future for the world’s most productive salmon fishery. ‘North America.”

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