The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said Thursday it is proposing sweeping environmental protections for the Bristol Bay Watershed in southwest Alaska, a move that would block the construction of a massive gold mine.
The agency announced the policy shift in a court filing earlier Thursday in response to a lawsuit filed by the mine’s opponents. The proposal to reinstate protections under the Clean Water Act aims to protect salmon fisheries in the region that are important to native tribes and other groups, the EPA said in a press release.
“The Bristol Bay Watershed is an Alaskan treasure,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement. “What’s at stake is preventing pollution that would disproportionately impact Alaska Natives, and protecting a sustainable future for the most productive salmon fishery in North America.”
The Bristol Bay Watershed is an Alaskan treasure that underscores the critical value of clean water in America. EPA is committed to making science-based decisions to protect our natural environment. Read about the steps we taking to protect #BristolBay: https://t.co/HPXw6SCn8G
— Michael Regan, U.S. EPA (@EPAMichaelRegan) September 9, 2021
Pebble Mine, a project to mine gold and copper, has faced more than a decade of opposition from native groups and environmentalists mainly because of its potential danger to marine populations in the region, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Pebble Limited Partnership, the U.S. subsidiary of Canadian company Northern Dynasty Minerals in charge of its construction, estimated the proposed mine could be one of the largest metal-producing projects on the continent, with a valuation of between $300 billion to $500 billion.
Although the EPA under former President Donald Trump had withdrawn protections for Bristol Bay and allowed mine operators to apply for permits, the previous administration ended up blocking the mining project in November 2020 after the Army Corps of Engineers cited environmental concerns. (RELATED: Biden Administration Freezes Oil Leases In Alaska Refuge, Undoing Trump’s Policy)
The new EPA action attempts to resolve pending disputes in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the agency said. At least two dozen environmental and local groups filed three separate lawsuits challenging the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw protections.
The agency’s new proposal Thursday would make it impossible for mining developers to revive the project with new plans, according to the WSJ. But the move does not ensure the region’s permanent protection and could be reversed by a future administration.