Federal judge vacates EPA’s withdrawal of Bristol Bay watershed protections

In this July 13, 2007, file photo, workers with the Pebble Mine project test drill in the...
In this July 13, 2007, file photo, workers with the Pebble Mine project test drill in the Bristol Bay region of Alaska, near the village of Iliamma.(AP Photo/Al Grillo, File)
Published: Oct. 29, 2021 at 5:29 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - A federal judge on Friday vacated a 2019 decision by the Environmental Protection Agency to withdraw proposed protections for the Bristol Bay watershed. The protections will effectively block the progress of the proposed Pebble Mine project.

In 2014, the EPA proposed to exercise its authority under the Clean Water Act to restrict the ability of mining operations in part of the Bristol Bay Watershed. The EPA then withdrew its Bristol Bay 404(c) Proposed Determination in 2019. At that point, a group of tribes and environmental agencies filed a lawsuit challenging that withdrawal of protections.

In July, a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel ruled that the lawsuit challenging the withdrawal could move forward.

In Friday’s order, U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Gleason ruled that the withdrawal of the 2014 proposed determination has been vacated and remanded back to the EPA. In effect, the 2014 proposed determination has been reinstated.

“These proposed protections would limit the amount of mine waste that could be released into streams, rivers and wetlands at the headwaters of Bristol Bay,” Trout Unlimited said in a press release.

Trout Unlimited is the only remaining plaintiff in the consolidated cases, according to the order.

“Today’s decision gets us back on track to finalizing protections for Bristol Bay’s headwaters and its world-class fisheries,” said Austin Williams, Alaska legal and policy director for Trout Unlimited in a Friday press release. “As the science has shown time and time again, large-scale mining in the Bristol Bay headwaters would be catastrophic to the region’s fisheries, its economy, and its vibrant cultures. We look forward to working with the EPA to finalize these protections that are so critical to so many people.”

Alaska’s News Source has reached out to Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s office and a spokesperson with the Pebble Limited Partnership for comment on Friday’s ruling.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

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