Court rules that Environmental Protection Agency decision to abandon Bristol Bay protections can't be challenged in court

Pictured: The Bristol Bay watershed in Alaska nourishes thriving salmon runs.(Photo: Carl Johnson)

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Federal district court dismissed a consolidated lawsuit challenging the EPA

News Release

Trustees for Alaska

The federal district court in Alaska dismissed a consolidated lawsuit challenging the Environmental Protection Agency’s removal of proposed protections for Bristol Bay, Alaska. The Environmental Protection Agency’s 2014 proposed protections under the Clean Water Act would have protected Bristol Bay from the proposed Pebble mine project, but Environmental Protection Agency withdrew its proposed determination in 2019.   

The Court dismissed the case, finding Environmental Protection Agency’s efforts to protect Bristol Bay under Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act akin to enforcement actions, which are unreviewable, and that Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to withdraw is an unchallengeable discretionary decision.   

This ruling does not address the scientific facts and public record that show that the proposed Pebble Mine threatens the food, jobs, cultures, and ways of life of the Bristol Bay Region and Alaska. Nor does it address Environmental Protection Agency’s about-face, removing important restrictions it once found necessary to protect the headwaters of Bristol Bay.  

The Alaska Center, Alaska Community Action on Toxics, Alaska Wilderness League, Cook Inletkeeper, Defenders of Wildlife, Earthworks, Friends of McNeil River, McNeil River Alliance, National Parks Conservation Association, National Wildlife Federation, Natural Resources Defense Council, SalmonState, Sierra Club, and Wild Salmon Center responded to the court’s decision in a collective statement:

“We are committed to protect Bristol Bay’s salmon fishery, communities, people, cultures, and ways of life. Today’s ruling does nothing to change the fact that Environmental Protection Agency withdrew its proposed protections for Bristol Bay because of political influence, ignoring its own science, traditional knowledge, and public input. We will work relentlessly to stop this reckless and dangerous project, and call agencies to account every step of the way.”

Multiple lawsuits filed in October 2019 challenged Environmental Protection Agency’s decision: one filed by entities from Bristol Bay; one filed by conservation groups represented by Trustees for Alaska, Earthjustice, and the Natural Resources Defense Council; and one filed by Trout Unlimited.

The Alaska Center, Alaska Community Action on Toxics, Alaska Wilderness League, Cook Inletkeeper, Defenders of Wildlife, Friends of McNeil River, McNeil River Alliance, National Parks Conservation Association, National Wildlife Federation, SalmonState, Sierra Club, and Wild Salmon Center are represented by Trustees for Alaska.

The Natural Resources Defense Council is representing itself.

Earthworks is represented by Earthjustice. 

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(Image: Trustees for Alaska)
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