UTBB’s work is guided by the results in the Bristol Bay Regional Visioning Project, a comprehensive project outlining a sustainable future that honors our traditional values and way of life. As a political division of our member tribal governments our work is primarily focused in three areas:
* Tribal Consultation with the Federal Government on issues affecting our Native way of life
* Grassroots organizing in the local, statewide, and national arena.
* Youth Empowerment and Organizing in the Bristol Bay region
UTBB works to ensure the voice of Bristol Bay’s tribal citizens is reaching the decision makers and federal agencies that make critical decisions affecting our communities. UTBB also engages in grassroots organizing in the Bristol Bay region and beyond, ensuring the public is engaged and aware of large-scale mining issues affecting Bristol Bay. Another important component of UTBB’s work is working with the future leaders of the Bristol Bay region, our youth. UTBB’s Youth Empowerment Project strives to help train young leaders to become powerful advocates for indigenous people, environmental justice, and a sustainable future in Bristol Bay.
EPA in Bristol Bay
In 2010, nine federally-recognized Alaska Native tribes, joined by commercial & sport fishermen, petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to pursue measures under the Clean Water Act’s Section 404(c) to protect Bristol Bay’s salmon and prohibit the development of all large-scale hard-rock mines in the Bristol Bay Watershed. In response to their request, the EPA initiated a scientific study, looking at the potential impacts that large-scale mining could have on Bristol Bay and its salmon populations. In January 2014, after three years of research and two scientific peer reviews, the EPA released its final watershed assessment, concluding that a mine like Pebble could result in: loss of salmon habitat (rivers, lakes, wetlands), degradation of the ecosystem (water quality, contamination), and the risk of an environmental disaster. At the continued urging of Alaskans, the EPA initiated Section 404(c) as a way to take proactive measures to limit certain mining activities in the Bristol Bay watershed, specifically activities that would involve disposing high volumes of dredge and fill material (i.e., mining wasterock) into Bristol Bay’s sensitive salmon habitat.
After the release of a draft determination and public comment period in 2014, EPA issued the Proposed Determination to enact 404(c) and provide protections for the Bristol Bay watershed, upon which the Pebble Limited Partnership (PLP) filed a series of lawsuits accusing the EPA of reaching their decision unlawfully.
From late 2014 to 2017, EPA and Pebble were tied up in litigation, preventing the EPA from filing a Final Determination. In May 2017, EPA entered into a settlement agreement with the Pebble Limited Partnership to resolve that litigation. Terms of the settlement included PLP dropping the lawsuit and EPA initiating the withdrawal of the Section 404(c) recommended determination. However, in early 2018 after the EPA received over one million comments in favor of upholding Bristol Bay protections, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced that the EPA would suspend the withdrawal of the 404(c) Proposed Determination.
After the settlement and just before the new year, the Pebble Partnership entered the permitting process by filing a permit application to build a mine with the Army Corps of Engineers. Despite this move, it is encouraging to know that EPA’s Section 404(c) authority is still on the table, as the proposed Pebble Mine will generate up to 10 billion tons of toxic mine waste that will have to be treated in perpetuity. Mine waste disposal in the Bristol Bay watershed is a direct threat to the Yup’ik, Dena’ina, and Alutiq people’s traditional way of life, the tremendous wild salmon habitat that supports their culture & the Bristol Bay fishery, and supplies the world with a healthy and sustainable source of wild salmon. The salmon fishery is also the economic engine of the region, generating an estimated $1.5 billion in revenue each year, and supporting over 14,000 jobs.