Equity and environmental justice in Bristol Bay
Lifting local voices
By Jessica Hathaway
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Environmental Protection Agency have made moves to protect Bristol Bay’s wildlife, its habitats, and the people whose lives and livelihoods depend on this abundant ecosystem.
The Biden administration has also issued a range of executive orders seeking to advance Equity and Environmental Justice protocols into federal policy and leadership. These EOs require government agencies to incorporate Indigenous and other minority voices and to consider community impacts in research, decision-making and resource management.
So what does this have to do with Pebble?
Local Alaska voices have been overwhelmingly opposed to the proposed mine, including the United Tribes of Bristol Bay and the Bristol Bay Native Corporation. Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay and Businesses for Bristol Bay, which represent local businesses and residents, as well as support from a wide range of more than 250 stakeholders and supporters nationwide, add their voices in opposition.
Equity and justice policies have the potential to shift the way our political leadership prioritizes access to community resources. Historically, the permitting process has put the burden of proof on the affected communities rather than on the mine’s investors.
The communities who depend on the robust habitat of Alaska’s most productive salmon spawning grounds have fought for nearly two decades to have their collective voices heard, despite widespread local opposition to the mine.
Meanwhile, the bureaucratic status quo has been inclined to favor investors in a foreign mining company who seek to capitalize on a short-term investment, the byproduct of which will leave behind a permanent and toxic threat to the communities of Bristol Bay.
Some have framed this battle over Bristol Bay as a competition for resource extraction — a choice between metals mining and salmon fishing. But to oppose Pebble Mine is to call for the preservation of resources. The Pebble deposit is not at risk of disappearing. What remains at risk is the habitat that sustains Bristol Bay’s prolific salmon fishery, a lifeline for the way of life in the bay.