JUNEAU — A federal agency announced Friday it was moving to protect the Bristol Bay watershed, home to the world’s largest sockeye salmon runs, under an obscure element of the Clean Water Act. Its actions could lead to a virtually unprecedented administrative veto of the proposed Pebble mine even before developers formally submit plans.
While the Environmental Protection Agency said a number of steps must happen before it decides whether to block the mine, officials also stressed that the fishery is an “extraordinary resource” that needs special protection.
Half of the world’s sockeye salmon are produced in the Bristol Bay watershed in runs that average 37.5 million fish a year.
Environmental, fishing and Alaska Native groups have pushed the EPA to block the mine. Pebble and Republican political leaders, including Gov. Sean Parnell, U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Rep. Don Young, have faulted even the whisper of a preemptive veto as extreme “federal overreach.”
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