Sep 9, 2021 - Politics & Policy

EPA to block major gold mine project in Alaska's Bristol Bay

A fishing boat in Bristol Bay

A fishing boat on its way to Bristol Bay. Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

The Environmental Protection Agency will restore protections for Alaska's Bristol Bay, per a court filing Thursday, a move that will block the construction of a controversial gold and copper mine in the region, the Washington Post reports.

Why it matters: The policy shift, which comes in response to a lawsuit filed by natives of the area, will halt the near decade-long project that would have a significant impact on a sensitive southwest Alaskan ecosystem.

  • The bay is home to one of the largest populations of salmon in the world. A 2014 EPA assessment said it accounted for around half of the world's annual wild sockeye salmon catch.

Background: Pebble Limited Partnership, a U.S. subsidiary of Northern Dynasty Minerals, has billed the project as having "the potential to be one of the most important metal-producing projects of the 21st century," writes WashPost.

  • But the EPA's 2014 assessment said the mine would "result in complete loss of fish habitat due to elimination, dewatering, and fragmentation of streams, wetlands, and other aquatic resources."

The project was first imperiled under policies by the Obama administration's EPA before getting backing by the Trump administration.

  • But Trump's EPA reversed course following a wave of pressure from Alaska Native American communities, environmentalists, the fishing industry and some prominent conservatives, including Donald Trump Jr..
  • The Pedro Bay Corporation, an Alaskan native group, reached a deal in June with the Conservation fund to sell more than 44,000 acres of land in Bristol Bay where backers had hoped the mine would be built, closing the land to future development

What they're saying: “It is essential to the livelihood and the community well-being of many Alaskan tribes [and] it is also one of the most productive salmon fisheries in North America,” Radhika Fox, head of the EPA’s Office of Water, told WashPost Thursday.

  • Alannah Hurley, executive director of the United Tribes of Bristol Bay, described the decision as a “monumental step in the right direction," pointing out that advocates had been fighting against it for decades.
Go deeper