EPA Announces Next Steps in Process to Protect Bristol Bay Watershed
Read EPA’s news release (Nov. 17, 2021).
The Bristol Bay watershed in southwestern Alaska supports the largest sockeye salmon fishery in the world, is home to 25 federally recognized tribal governments, and contains large mineral resources. Learn more about Bristol Bay.
On November 17, 2021, EPA announced a timeframe for the agency to consider new information available to determine next steps in the Bristol Bay Clean Water Act Section 404(c) process for the Pebble Deposit (Pebble Mine) in Southwest Alaska.
If a Clean Water Act 404(c) determination is finalized, it would help protect waters over the long term that are essential to commercial, subsistence, and recreational fisheries, and other activities that support Alaska Natives and communities in the state.
On October 29, 2021, the Alaska District court ruled in favor of EPA’s request to remand and vacate the agency’s August 30, 2019, withdrawal of its 2014 Bristol Bay Proposed Determination issued under Clean Water Section 404(c).
This ruling reinstated the 2014 Bristol Bay Proposed Determination, reinitiated the Clean Water Act Section 404(c) process, and triggered regulatory deadlines.
Clean Water Act 404(c) regulations require EPA to either withdraw the 2014 Proposed Determination or prepare a Recommended Determination "within 30 days after the conclusion of the public hearing."
Upon a showing of "good cause," EPA can extend the regulatory deadline through a notice in the Federal Register. EPA’s announcement in the Federal Register extends this timeline until May 31, 2022.
An extension of the regulatory timeline will allow EPA to consider available information, including the substantial volume of new information that has become available since the agency issued the 2014 Proposed Determination, to determine appropriate next steps in the 404(c) process.
EPA will provide notice of any public review and comment opportunity that may be determined to be appropriate as part of next steps in this process.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Review of Pebble Mine Permit Application
In February 2019, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) under the National Environmental Policy Act and a draft Clean Water Act Section 404 permit public notice for the Pebble Mine project. On August 24, 2020, the Corps issued a determination that the Pebble Mine project, as currently proposed, cannot be permitted under section 404 of the Clean Water Act.
EPA Withdraws the 2014 Proposed Determination
In July 2019, EPA withdrew its 2014 Proposed Determination issued under section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act (CWA) for the use of the Pebble Deposit Area in Southwest Alaska as a disposal site associated with mining of the deposit.
- Federal Register Notice of Decision To Withdraw Proposed Determination – August 30, 2019
- (July 30, 2019)
of the Withdrawal of the 2014 Proposed Determination
EPA Suspends Withdrawal of Proposed Determination
In January 2018, after hearing directly from stakeholders and the people of Alaska, EPA suspended its process to withdraw proposed restrictions on mining in Bristol Bay.
2017 Settlement Agreement
In May 2017, EPA entered into a settlement agreement with the Pebble Limited Partnership to resolve litigation from 2014 relating to EPA's prior work in the Bristol Bay watershed.
2014 Proposed Determination
In July 2014, EPA Region 10 initiated a process to protect one of the world’s most valuable salmon fisheries, in Bristol Bay, Alaska, from the risks posed by a mine at the Pebble deposit.
- Read the Executive Summary and Proposed Determination
View all public comments on the proposal (regulations.gov)
2014 Bristol Bay Assessment
In January 2014, EPA issued its final assessment of the potential impacts of large-scale mining development on Bristol Bay fisheries and wildlife, and on Alaska Native cultures of the region.