Dear Administrator Regan and Regional Administrator Sixkiller,
On behalf of World Wildlife Fund (WWF)’s US Arctic Program, I am pleased to submit these comments on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Proposed Determination issued under Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act (CWA) to prohibit and restrict the use of waters of the proposed Pebble mine site as disposal sites. WWF urges the EPA to issue a Final Determination that not only prohibits or restricts past, current, and future plans for the Pebble deposit but also permanently protects Bristol Bay’s headwaters from porphyry mining like that proposed for the Pebble deposit. We support EPA in the 404(c) process as quickly as possible.
WWF’s mission is to conserve nature and reduce the most pressing threats to the diversity of life on our planet. As the world’s leading conservation organization, WWF works in 100 countries and is supported by 1.3 million members in the United States and over 5 million members globally. WWF is unique in that we combine global reach with local action, informed by a foundation in science and aimed at innovative solutions that meet the needs of both people and nature. WWF has long been engaged in efforts to protect the Bristol Bay region from development as it is home to the world’s greatest wild salmon fishery, generating $2.2 billion annually, supporting 15,000 jobs, providing 57 percent of the world’s sustaining sockeye salmon, and indigenous communities. Protecting this region creates a win for environmental justice, the economy, and the environment.
WWF’s comments echo the voices of the United Tribes of Bristol Bay, Bristol Bay Native Association, Bristol Bay Native Corporation, and Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation. There is no question that the EPA has the support of the people of Bristol Bay to move quickly and diligently to implement the Proposed Determination.
As described in the Proposed Determination published on May 26, 2022, all available data confirm that the 2020 Pebble Mine Plan, with its associated discharge of drudged or fill material for the construction and routine operation, will result in unacceptable adverse effects on anadromous fishery areas in the South Fork Koktuli River (SFK), North Fork Koktuli River (NFK), and Upper Talarik Creek (UTC) watersheds. Because of these findings and the associated unmitigable risks to the Nushagak and Kvichak Rivers, the only reasonable course of action is to prohibit and restrict the use of these waters as disposal sites. We encourage the EPA to complete the process as swiftly as possible, and we are committed to assisting you and your staff in any way possible to achieve that goal.
As noted in the Proposed Determination, the waters draining the Pebble deposit area support genetically distinct salmon population segments and provide key habitat for numerous other fish species. These headwater streams play a vital role in sustaining diverse, abundant, and unique anadromous fish populations by providing important fish habitat and by supplying energy and to support fish populations in downstream habitats. Additionally, as noted in the Proposed Determination, the risks posed to the SFK, NFK, and UTC watersheds are not exclusive to these watersheds; Impacts are likely to result in permanently lost habitat for juvenile Coho, Chinook, and Sockeye salmon due to the erosion of habitat complexity and biocomplexity downstream.
WWF also appreciates the discussion about other adverse effects of concern associated with discharges of material from the Pebble deposit. Adverse effects from accidents and failures such as a tailings dam failure are likely to persevere “in perpetuity” and have profound ecological ramifications for the entire area. The Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) upon which the EPA Proposed Determination is made, finds it reasonably foreseeable that the 2020 mine plan would expand in the future to mine 8.6 billion tons of ore over 78 years, which would result in “extraordinary and outstanding levels of anadromous fish habitat losses and degradation, expanding the unacceptable effects identified for the 2020 Mine Plan”. WWF agrees with the EPA’s conclusion that given the extensive scientific and regulatory record supporting this designation, it is not necessary to engage in another multi-year National Environmental Protect Act (NEPA) or CWA Section 404 review process for future plans that may propose to discharge dredged or fill material in the area that could result in effects that are similar or greater in nature and magnitude to effects of the 2020 Mine Plan.
WWF fully supports the EPA’s Proposed Determination to ensure protection for the watershed and people of Bristol Bay.