The Biden Administration Blocks Pebble Mine, Protecting Bristol Bay and Local Communities

Picture a vast, pristine watershed with meandering rivers, expansive wetlands, towering peaks, and lush forests. Now imagine what would happen if a massive, open pit mine was developed right at the headwaters of that landscape. Unfortunately, this isn’t a hypothetical question—it was the very threat that had bedeviled the Bristol Bay watershed for decades until recently, when the Biden administration blocked the proposed Pebble Mine.

Located in Southwest Alaska, Bristol Bay is home to the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery, which generates billions of dollars in economic activity, supports tens of thousands of jobs, and has sustained the region’s Indigenous peoples since time immemorial. For millennia, Bristol Bay remained safe from development but, in the early 2000s, foreign mining companies began pursuing development of the Pebble Mine, seeking to extract the gold and copper deposits under Bristol Bay.

As proposed, the Pebble Mine would be one of the largest open-pit mines in the world, generating up to 10 billion tons of toxic waste that would remain on the site forever while destroying thousands of acres of wetlands and nearly 100 miles of salmon streams. It would directly imperil “America’s Fish Basket,” the livelihoods and cultural traditions of local communities, and the hundreds of other wildlife species that live in the region.

Recognizing the threats posed by Pebble Mine, six Alaska Native tribes petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency in 2010 to use its authorities under the Clean Water Act to protect Bristol Bay from the proposed mine. Soon after, the tribes were joined by a variety of stakeholders who also rely on Bristol Bay, including additional Alaska Native tribes, tribal organizations like the United Tribes of Bristol Bay, commercial fishermen, business owners, hunters and anglers, and other organizations like the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation.

In January 2023, following more than a decade of tireless work from Alaska Native groups, local stakeholders, and the environmental community, the Biden administration used its authorities under the Clean Water Act to block the proposed Pebble Mine—a hard-fought victory in the effort to protect Bristol Bay from the toxic impacts of industrial mining. By protecting this cherished watershed, President Biden reaffirmed his commitment to advancing environmental justice, honoring Indigenous rights, and addressing the climate crisis through preservation and other natural climate solutions.

As we look towards other threatened landscapes in Alaska, and across our country, this victory at Bristol Bay should serve as a source of inspiration. Through collective action, elevating the traditional knowledge of Indigenous communities, and engaging a diversity of voices, we will only be more effective in our efforts to protect the planet and those who call it home.