After years of effort Bristol Bay celebrates EPA’s historic action to stop Pebble

Tuesday, January 31, 2023
Carmell Engebretson, BBNC Director of Communications, or (907) 278-3602
Alannah Hurley, UTBB Executive Director, or (907) 843-1633
Robin Samuelsen, BBEDC Board Chair, (907) 843-1642
Gayla Hoseth, BBNA Director of Natural Resources, or (907) 842-6252

Regional organizations and residents celebrate long-sought Clean Water Act protections that will safeguard the lands and waters that have sustained Bristol Bay since time immemorial

Dillingham, Alaska — Bristol Bay Tribes, communities, Alaska Native Corporations and organizations are celebrating the news that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized 404(c) Clean Water Act protections that will stop the proposed Pebble Mine from being built at the headwaters of Bristol Bay.

The EPA on January 31 published its “Final Determination outlining prohibitions and restrictions that will prevent a large-scale mine from being developed at the Pebble deposit due to the adverse impacts such a mine would have on Bristol Bay’s people, waters, and salmon fishery. This news is decades in the making and was initiated in 2010 when Bristol Bay’s Tribes first formally petitioned the EPA to use their authority under the Clean Water Act to protect the pristine watershed.

The protections will prohibit and restrict the use of certain waters—in the South Fork Koktuli, North Fork Koktuli, and Upper Talarik Creek watersheds—in Bristol Bay as a disposal site for the discharge of dredged or fill material associated with mining at the Pebble deposit. Additionally, the Final Determination prohibits future proposals to develop a mine at the Pebble deposit which have impacts similar or greater than the mine plan denied by the Army Corps of Engineers in 2020.

The EPA’s Final Determination is a welcome decision in the region, where the vast majority of residents have long-opposed this toxic project. During Bristol Bay’s robust sockeye salmon season last summer a record number of Bristol Bay residents and Alaskans submitted comments supporting EPA finalizing permanent protections for the watershed.

Bristol Bay leaders made the following statements:

“EPA listened to our people’s call and will now protect our lands and waters for future generations. This is fantastic news for our region,” said Robin Samuelsen, board chair of the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp. “Bristol Bay has been fighting this mine for more than two decades, and today we celebrate that the EPA listened and took action to protect our home. Our fishery is critical to our region’s survival both economically and culturally, and this decision will enable us to continue feeding our families and the world.”

“EPA, and in particular Administrator Michael Regan, Assistant Administrator Radhika Fox, and Region 10 Administrator Casey Sixkiller, deserve credit for their thorough work and for listening to the voices of Bristol Bay throughout the process,” said Bristol Bay Native Corporation CEO Jason Metrokin. “Today is a great day for Bristol Bay, and one that many thought would never come. While the immediate threat of Pebble is behind us, BBNC will continue working to protect Bristol Bay’s salmon-based culture and economy and to create new economic opportunities across the region.”

“Under President Biden, the EPA has not only restored its commitment to science and law but truly listened to the original stewards and first peoples’ of this land. Ignored by our own state government, our Tribes petitioned the EPA 13 years ago to use its 404(c) authority to protect Bristol Bay, to protect our people,” said Alannah Hurley, executive director of the United Tribes of Bristol Bay. “Today, these Clean Water Act protections provide certainty that Pebble cannot be built in Bristol Bay. On behalf of UTBB, I’d like to say quyana, chin’an, thank you to the EPA and the Biden Administration not just for this decision, but for working throughout this 404(c) process to consult with our Tribes. EPA’s action today helps us build the future where our people can remain Yup’ik, Dena’ina, and Alutiiq for generations to come.”

“Today is a historical moment in time and we would like to thank the EPA for finalizing the Clean Water Act protections that will safeguard our lands, water and culture,” said Bristol Bay Native Association President & CEO Garvin Federenko. “The people of Bristol Bay have always been stewards of our lands and natural resources with traditional ecological knowledge passed on from generation to generation since time immemorial. Today is a day for celebration with gratitude to EPA, as well as the people of Bristol Bay for being engaged in the process to have our voices heard, and thank you to everyone who has supported our region over the past two decades.”

The fight to protect Bristol Bay, and its irreplaceable resources, has had support from a unique bipartisan coalition, including commercial and sport fishermen, jewelers, chefs, businesses, residents, politicians on both sides of the aisle, and millions of Americans over several comment periods. Although Clean Water Act 404(c) protections provide certainty that Pebble cannot be built in Bristol Bay, Bristol Bay’s Tribes and regional organizations will remain vigilant and continue working to safeguard our lands, waters and the people they sustain from future threats.


Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation (BBEDC) represents 17 CDQ communities & exists to promote economic growth and opportunities for Bristol Bay residents through sustainable use of the Bering Sea fisheries.

Bristol Bay Native Association (BBNA) represents 31 Bristol Bay Tribes & is the regional nonprofit Tribal consortium providing social, economic, and educational opportunities to tribal members.

Bristol Bay Native Corporation (BBNC) is a diversified Alaska Native investment corporation dedicated to the mission of “Enriching Our Native Way of Life.” Established through the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971, BBNC works to protect the land in Bristol Bay, celebrate the legacy of its people, and enhance the lives of its shareholders.

United Tribes of Bristol Bay (UTBB) is a Tribal consortium representing 15 Bristol Bay Tribal governments (that represent over 80 percent of the region’s total population) working to protect the Yup’ik, Dena’ina, and Alutiiq way of life in Bristol Bay.


Reprint of original press release distribution from United Tribes of Bristol Bay


See photos that illustrate the cost of building Alaska’s Pebble Mine

Carl Johnson’s photography shows the bay ‘where water is gold.’

Where Water is Gold celebrates the natural bounty of Southwest Alaska’s Bristol Bay. Images and essays highlight the splendor of the area’s mountains, waterways and wildlife, and the lives of the people who live and work there. The bay hosts the biggest sockeye salmon run in the world, and fish figure prominently in photographer Carl Johnson’s images. In one, a rainbow trout camouflages itself against a streambed; in another, sunlight turns ruby strips of drying sockeye translucent.

EPA Decision To Protect Bristol Bay Means Pebble Mine Project Is All But Dead

Discharges of dredged or fill material to construct and operate the proposed mine site alone would result in the permanent loss of approximately:

  • 8.5 miles (13.7 km) of anadromous fish streams.
  • 91 miles (147 km) of additional streams that support anadromous fish streams.
  • 2,108 acres (8.5 km2) of wetlands and other waters in the SFK and NFK watersheds that support anadromous fish streams.

These discharges would also result in streamflow alterations that would adversely affect approximately 29 miles (46.7 km) of additional anadromous fish streams downstream of the mine site due to greater than 20 percent changes in average monthly streamflow.

EPA Uses Rare Veto to Protect Alaska’s Bristol Bay, Kill Pebble Mine

Using its rarely used authority under Section 404C of the Clean Water Act, the EPA’s final determination limits the use of waters in the Bristol Bay watershed as disposal sites for the Pebble and other mining projects aiming to dig up gold and copper deposits in the area.

The action, which marks just the third time in 30 years the EPA has used its Section 404(c) authority, came after extensive review of scientific and technical research over two decades and “robust” stakeholder engagement, according to the EPA. The research found certain discharges associated with developing the Pebble deposit will have “unacceptable adverse effects on certain salmon fishery areas in the Bristol Bay watershed,” according to an EPA statement.

EPA stops the Pebble Mine in Alaska’s Bristol Bay with rarely used power

Hurley thanked the Biden administration multiple times; she pointed to its nation-to-nation discussions with the region’s tribes and said the federal government consulted with tribes when the state would not. She also said tribes will continue their efforts to protect the region.

“Our work will not be done until every inch of our traditional homelands are protected,” she said. “And EPA’s action today helps us build that future where our people can remain Yup’ik, Dena’ina and Alutiiq for generations to come.”

The EPA vetoed Alaska’s proposed Pebble Mine

The decision is the latest setback for Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd., the Canadian company that has sought to mine the area for decades. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers rejected a permit for the project in 2020. And an effort to block a key transportation route to the mine was finalized in December: Working together, land conservation groups and the Pedro Bay Corporation, an Alaska Native corporation, purchased easements that permanently protected 44,000 acres of land owned by the Pedro Bay Corporation, closing off the mine’s preferred proposed route  — considered the least harmful by federal regulators — for transporting ore to a port in Cook Inlet.


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