EPA announces next steps in process to protect Bristol Bay watershed under the Clean Water Act Authority

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Region 10 press releases

SEATTLE (November 17, 2021) – Today, the EPA announced a deadline for the agency to review the new information available to determine the next steps in the Bristol Bay Clean Water Act Section 404 (c) process (CWA) for the Pebble deposit (Pebble Mine) in southwest Alaska. If a CWA 404 (c) determination is finalized, it will help long-term protect waters that are essential for commercial, subsistence and recreational fishing, as well as other activities that support Alaska Natives and state communities.

“The Bristol Bay watershed supports the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery and highlights the essential benefits that clean water provides to the environment and communities across the country, ” said Michelle Pirzadeh, interim regional administrator for EPA Region 10. “Today’s announcement underscores the EPA’s commitment to make science-based decisions to protect our natural environment, prevent pollution, and protect a sustainable future for all Americans.”

On October 29, 2021, the Alaska District Court ruled in favor of the EPA’s request to remand and set aside the August 30, 2019 withdrawal of its 2014 Bristol Bay Proposed determination issued under Section 404 (c) of the CWA (2014 PD). This decision reinstated the 2014 PD, restarted the CWA Section 404 (c) process, and triggered regulatory deadlines.

CWA Regulation 404 (c) requires the EPA to withdraw the 2014 PD or prepare a recommended determination “within 30 days of the conclusion of the public hearing.” Upon presentation of a “good cause,” the EPA may extend the regulatory timeframe through a notice in the Federal Register. EPA Federal Register Notice, announced today, extends that deadline to May 31, 2022. An extension of the regulatory deadline will allow the EPA to review available information, including the substantial volume of new information that has become available since the agency published PD 2014, to determine the appropriate next steps in the 404 (c) process. The EPA will advise the public of any opportunities for public review and comment that may be deemed appropriate as part of the next steps in this process.

Background

Bristol Bay supports commercial, subsistence and recreational fisheries that are worth hundreds of millions of dollars each year and create thousands of jobs. The fishery resources of Bristol Bay have supported a subsistence-based way of life for the Alaskan natives for over 4,000 years. The Bristol Bay watershed is an area of ​​outstanding ecological value with salmon fisheries unrivaled in North America. The region’s streams, wetlands, lakes and ponds provide critical habitat that supports the five species of Pacific salmon found in North America: coho salmon, chinook salmon, sockeye salmon, chum salmon and pink salmon. Salmon populations are essential to the health of the entire ecosystem, which is home to more than 20 species of fish, 190 species of birds and more than 40 species of land mammals, including bears, moose and caribou. .

The CWA typically requires a Section 404 permit from the US Army Corps of Engineers to allow the dumping of dredged or fill material into certain streams, wetlands, lakes, and ponds. Section 404 directs the EPA to develop the environmental criteria used in making permit decisions. The US Army Corps of Engineers authorizes thousands of Section 404 permits each year, and the EPA works with the corps and developers to address environmental issues so projects can move forward. Section 404 (c) also authorizes the EPA to prohibit or restrict filling activities if the EPA determines that a release would have an unacceptable negative effect on certain resources.

The EPA has used its authority under Section 404 (c) sparingly, having rendered final decisions only 13 times in the CWA’s 50-year history. The agency’s use of authority has typically involved major projects with significant impacts on some of America’s most ecologically valuable waters.

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