WASHINGTON — The Biden administration on Wednesday took a major legal step toward protecting Bristol Bay in Alaska, one of the world’s most valuable sockeye salmon fisheries that also sits atop enormous copper and gold deposits long coveted by mining companies.
Citing its authority under the 1972 Clean Water Act, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed a legal determination that would ban the disposal of mining waste in the Bristol Bay watershed. It’s a move that could deal a death blow to the proposed Pebble Mine, an intensely disputed project that would have extracted the metals but also irreparably harmed the ecosystem, scientists said.
The proposal, which would create permanent protections for the waters and wildlife of Bristol Bay, about 200 miles southwest of Anchorage, will be finalized later this year.
The determination would prohibit any entity from disposing mine-related waste within 308 square miles around the site of the proposed Pebble Mine project. That’s an area about four times as large as Washington, D.C., but just a small fraction of the entire 40,000-square mile area of the Bristol Bay watershed.