Bristol Bay Native and fishing groups file complaint against the EPA

Five groups are announcing a lawsuit against the EPA on Oct. 8, 2019. (Photo from Grant Robinson/KTUU)

ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - The Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation, Bristol Bay Native Association, Inc., United Tribes of Bristol Bay, Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, Inc., and Bristol Bay Reserved Association have filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The group filed the complaint against the EPA alleging "The proposed Pebble mine would destroy thousands of acres of critical habitat and miles of salmon streams that are essential to Bristol Bay’s commercial, recreational and subsistence salmon fisheries."

The plaintiffs in the complaint say Bristol Bay salmon are economically, culturally and ecologically critical to Alaskan communities, generating $1.5 billion in annual revenue and supporting 14,000 jobs.

In late July the EPA withdrew proposed Obama-era restrictions on mining activity in Alaska's Bristol Bay region.

EPA at the time said the proposed restrictions were based on hypothetical scenarios and are outdated now that the Pebble Limited Partnership (PLP) has submitted project plans.

According to the complaint, the "plaintiffs seek vacatur of EPA’s decision to withdraw the Proposed Determination and declaratory and injunctive relief because the decision is arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, and not in accordance with the law. "

The complaint states the EPA issued its Proposed Determination in July 2014 pursuant to Section
404(c) of the Clean Water Act.

According to the writing in the complaint, in the Proposed Determination, EPA found that “Alaska’s Bristol Bay watershed . . . is an area of unparalleled ecological value, boasting salmon diversity and productivity unrivaled anywhere in North America.” The EPA proposed restricting “discharge of dredged or fill material related to mining the Pebble deposit into waters of the United States. …”

In that same year, the EPA was sued three times by the Pebble Limited Partnership. According to the complaint, in May 2017, EPA and PLP settled the litigation. Under the agreed settlement EPA committed to “initiate a process to propose to withdraw the Proposed Determination.”

In July 2017 the EPA requested public comments.

According to the plaintiffs, the public comment resulted in "the overwhelming majority in opposition to EPA’s proposal to withdraw the Proposed Determination, EPA decided to leave the Proposed Determination “in place pending further consideration by the Agency of information that is relevant to the protection of the world-class fisheries."

As stated above, the EPA on July 30, 2019, withdrew the Proposed Determination.

The plaintiffs are asking the court to declare "that the EPA's withdrawal of the Proposed Determination is arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, and not in accordance with the law, in violation of the CWA and The Administrative Procedure Act."

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