In the fight to save Bristol Bay, campaign cordinator, Scott Hed can see light at the end of the tunnel. “We are headed into an exciting phase with a clear vision, but we are not there yet and the trade needs to help to sustain a final push.”
Here, in a Q&A, Scott outlines the current situation and tells what needs to happen next to save one of the world’s most iconic and finest salmon fisheries from a potentially disastrous plan to open it up to mineral mining.
What does the US Army Corps’ decision to deny the permit for the proposed Pebble Mine mean?
It’s something to celebrate for sure and it’s obviously preferable to the permit being approved. However, it’s really only a good and necessary step toward our ultimate goal of seeing Bristol Bay forever protected from the threat of large scale mining.
Where does it leave the Pebble Mine project?
The backers of Pebble Mine have already announced their intent to challenge the permit denial decision. This permit is critical to their attempts to advance a project that is widely condemned in Bristol Bay, in Alaska, around the United States, and across the globe. Denial of this permit certainly lessened the appeal for potential investors to put their money behind this ill-conceived project.
What does and doesn’t it mean?
It means that the plan that Pebble submitted has been denied in its current form. That’s the important part. The permit denial only covers this application and Pebble or any other mining company, is free to return in the future (under a more favourable political environment) with a new plan to build a mine or mines in Bristol Bay.
Pebble Mine executives were exposed on video discussing their vision for a few centuries of mining in the region despite only applying for a mine with an estimated 20-year life. It doesn’t mean that Bristol Bay is protected. Much more work needs to be done to finish the job and see durable and lasting protections secured for Bristol Bay and its incredibly valuable fishery.
What are the different scenarios of what could happen next?
Hopefully, Pebble is unsuccessful in challenging the permit denial decision. That will involve an administrative appeal first and potentially litigation. While that is playing out, we need to advance real conservation measures – and that’s where we have a tremendous opportunity with the incoming Biden Administration. President-elect Biden has indicated his feelings that Bristol Bay is no place for a mine like Pebble, and we couldn’t agree more. We need to hold his administration to taking decisive and meaningful action.
What must happen next?
Now is the time for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to use section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act to veto the Pebble Mine. No other approach can create the immediate safety net for those who depend on Bristol Bay. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the EPA have concluded that Pebble Mine will damage Bristol Bay forever. The EPA must start its veto process immediately.
What can the industry do support the cause further?
Stand with Bristol Bay and get behind the Call to Protect Bristol Bay. It’s a two-step plan that was conceived by local citizens and leaders in Bristol Bay that serves as a vision and roadmap to securing permanent protection for the region’s waters from the threat of large-scale mining like Pebble.
Step One is the EPA issuing the Clean Water Act veto mentioned above. Step Two is Congress passing legislation to establish a National Fisheries Area to provide federal protection for the watersheds of Bristol Bay. It must permanently ban any toxic mine waste from the proposed Pebble Mine and large scale projects like it that would harm Bristol Bay’s rivers, lakes and wetlands.
I urge every brand in the fishing industry that has supported this long-running effort to throw their weight behind the Call to Protect Bristol Bay.
I would also like to say thank you to the hundreds of companies in the recreational fishing industry as well as the untold thousands of anglers who have taken action so many times during this epic campaign. We have had ups and downs, and through it all support from the angling community has not wavered. We are headed into an exciting phase with a clear vision on securing lasting protections for Bristol Bay, and with the continued support of our allies we will achieve what many consider would be the freshwater fisheries conservation victory of our lifetime.