Pebble Mine Was Too Risky Then, and It’s Too Risky Now
Despite the results of the Army Corps’ final environmental impact statement, sportsmen and women still oppose greenlighting the copper and gold mine permit
In 2014, the EPA all but doomed the now-infamous Pebble Mine proposal on the grounds that it would irrevocably damage Bristol Bay’s sockeye salmon fishery. But last week, the Army Corps of Engineers concluded in its final environmental impact statement that the mine would not have a measurable effect on fish numbers.
Now, the Corps could give the green light to dig in the headwaters of Bristol Bay in as little as 20 days, even though its study confirms that Pebble would destroy 185 miles of streams and over 4,000 acres of wetlands in the most prolific sockeye salmon fishery on the planet.
This decision would do harm to:
A $1.5-billion economy that supports over 15,000 jobs for lodge owners, guides, commercial fishermen, fish processors, tourism operators, and more.
One of the most sought-after sportfishing destinations in the country.
31 federally recognized Yup’ik, Dena’ina, and Alutiiq tribes that depend on salmon to support their way of life.
More than 50 percent of the world’s catch of sockeye salmon.
The broader habitat at the headwaters of Bristol Bay, where Pebble would permanently store 10.2 billion tons of toxic waste.
Taxpayers, who would be stuck footing the bill for pollution and habitat damage.
Oh, and did we mention that Pebble Mine investors wouldn’t even be satisfied with the project as it has been proposed? You see, to get the permit, the applicant substantially shrank the footprint of the mine from what they were proposing five years ago.
This New Rule Deals Another Serious Blow to Fish Habitat and Wetlands
While the conservation world focused on the Great American Outdoors Act, the administration quietly limited the states’ authority to protect water quality
It feels unfair to be writing about bad news for water quality as we celebrate such a hard-earned victory for public lands this week. Certainly, with the year we’ve been having, all Americans needed a win. But those of us who have been fighting the dismantling of Clean Water Act protections for streams and wetlands needed a morale boost even more. Here’s why:
Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency quietly finalized changes to Clean Water Act rules that allowed states to look out for their own water quality as development activities needing federal permits are proposed that may affect the rivers, streams, and wetlands. What is noteworthy from an administration that usually champions states’ rights is how this rule removes state power.
The EPA’s new rule deals with the “401 certification” process, which is an important, if obscure, Clean Water Act authority. To understand how it works, you need to know two things:
Federal agencies permit thousands of construction activities across the country each year. The Army Corps of Engineers typically issues permits for building roads, bridges, shopping malls, housing developments, dams, and diversions that touch the nation’s water bodies—inland and coastal, big and little—and wetlands. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission licenses hydropower facilities and transmission pipelines.
The Clean Water Act authorizes states to tell these federal agencies what conditions to include in their federal permits that will protect the state’s water quality from the adverse effects of development.
At least twice since the mid-1990s, the U.S. Supreme Court has affirmed the broad scope of states’ authority under section 401 of the Clean Water Act. In the first of these cases, the State of Washington successfully required a dam operator to maintain healthy river flows for the resident salmon fishery. That’s just one example of how this process has provided checks and balances to benefit fish and wildlife.
To be clear, the states’ role is not to prevent development. With tens of thousands of certifications issued annually, half the states who responded to an EPA survey reported zero denials. Because projects need certification, the process is usually one where states and applicants work together to find ways for development to proceed without compromising water quality, habitat, or outdoor recreation opportunities.
The new rule would fundamentally change this process, which has existed for 50 years.
Most dramatically, it limits the states to imposing only conditions that relate directly to water quality standards that EPA approves. So, if a bridge were proposed across a stream that currently supports a recreational fishery and provides fishing access, the state could not require that substitute access be provided close by, because EPA does not do this work.
States can no longer institute certain flow requirements—like Washington did to save its salmon—or require a permittee to build or maintain fish passage, even when the permitted activity would fragment an intact fishery’s habitat.
And states will no longer be able to require water quality protection for the streams and wetlands that the federal government no longer protects under the new “waters of the US” rule. (Here’s my post about that.) According to Trout Unlimited scientists, this is 50 percent of the nation’s stream miles and 40 percent of wetlands, like the prairie potholes of the Upper Midwest.
The rule finalized last week also tightens timelines for the states to take action. States issue most of their certifications in less than six months, but large complex infrastructure reviews take more time. It is appropriate to ask regulators to work quickly, but this new rule shifts the power to applicants. The clock starts to run when applicants first put in a basic request—not when a state receives a complete application, with all the information needed for analysis and decision.
Why these changes? In 2019, in Executive Order 13868, President Trump directed the EPA to change the certification process “to encourage greater investment in energy infrastructure.” Regardless of the importance of this policy, it is unrelated to the only objective of the Clean Water Act, to restore the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of our nation’s waters.
During debate over the latter, the administration argued that the states could use their authority to protect the headwaters and wetlands that the federal government would no longer regulate. But this latest change constrains the states’ ability to do just that.
While EPA takes contrary positions regarding state authority, the beneficiaries of these rules are the same—those who want to build pipelines without having to safeguard fish and wildlife. These developers also win under the NEPA rule changes.
Sadly, the losers may be those of you reading this blog.
Four Reasons to Root for the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act
Billions of dollars in annual funding could go to habitat restoration and boosting wildlife species
Earlier this month, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act as an amendment to its sweeping infrastructure package, and this builds momentum for what could be the most impactful wildlife conservation investment in U.S. history. The Act would provide $1.4 billion in dedicated funding annually to restore habitat, recover wildlife populations, and rebuild the infrastructure for both our natural systems and outdoor recreation opportunities across the country.
Here are four reasons why the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act is one for sportsmen and women to watch in the weeks ahead.
The timing couldn’t be better.
These investments would put Americans back to work immediately by creating non-exportable jobs—as many as 33,500 annually—that will fuel our nation’s $778-billion outdoor recreation economy just as local businesses need it most. And as states continue to slowly re-open parks and public lands, Americans are grateful for the escape that the outdoors can provide. Congress can support economic recovery and underscore the value of our natural resources by advancing this bill.
RAWA dollars would meet their match on the ground.
The $1.4-billion annual investment included in the House bill would generate an additional $3.36 billion in economic output. This means every federal dollar spent on species and habitat restoration would generate 2.4 times that amount for the national economy. This is a net positive gain of $1.96 billion for the U.S. Gross Domestic Product, but sportsmen and women would also see the results of healthier wildlife habitat in the form of world-class recreation opportunities.
Bipartisanship is strong with this one.
This common-sense, fiscally responsible solution is endorsed by 182 House cosponsors on both sides of the aisle. It received strong bipartisan support when it was reported out of the House Committee on Natural Resources last December and as it was passed on the House floor. (It is worth noting that the group of amendments that included RAWA was praised as the only bipartisan legislation being considered “en bloc” during these floor proceedings.) This consensus makes a strong case for the bill’s passage in the Senate.
It creates a new source of federal conservation funding for the next five years.
As an amendment to the House infrastructure package (H.R.2), the bill would fund the implementation of existing science-based wildlife action plans managed by state fish and wildlife agencies on the same timeline as the five-year highway bill. But, ultimately, we want to see this become a permanent, dedicated 21st-century funding model for the much-needed conservation of our fish and wildlife.
This is exactly what the Alliance for America’s Fish and Wildlife was established to accomplish. We bring together members representing the outdoor recreation, retail, and manufacturing sector, including the energy and automotive industries, plus private landowners, educational institutions, conservation organizations, sportsmen’s groups, and state and federal fish and wildlife agencies to achieve our mission.
Keep following the TRCP for updates about the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act.
Sean Saville is the Alliance for America’s Fish & Wildlife campaign manager for the Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies. He resides just outside of the nation’s capital in Virginia and is an avid outdoorsman and wildlife enthusiast. Among his favorite outdoor activities are hiking with his son, backcountry camping, motorcycle riding, snowboarding, and birdwatching. Feel free to contact Sean with any questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
TRCP Leads on Fisheries Management, Coastal Restoration, and Fishing Access at ICAST Online
Watch four conservation seminars from the virtual sportfishing trade show
Adapting quickly to the new digital format of this year’s trade shows, the TRCP was able to showcase its leadership on marine fisheries conservation issues and coastal restoration this week by bringing together expert voices, business leaders, and the media for the fifth consecutive year at ICAST.
One additional benefit of hosting these discussions online is that anyone can take part, which seems appropriate considering one of the major themes that emerged: Anglers can and do make a difference when they get involved in conservation.
This point was stressed by all five expert panelists in Thursday’s presentation, “Building a Better Model for Menhaden Management,” which focused on the recent successes for the important forage fish in Chesapeake Bay. Outspoken recreational fishermen were critical to clinching many of these wins, including holding Omega Protein accountable for willfully ignoring the harvest cap in the Bay and transferring menhaden management authority away from the political body of the legislature, said Matt Strickler, Virginia’s Secretary of Natural Resources.
The goal of the more scientifically guided Marine Resources Commission and its new menhaden advisory committee is to make management decisions more transparent, said Mike Leonard, vice president of government affairs for the American Sportfishing Association who was recently appointed to join the committee. They will have the authority to set the new cap in the Bay and reduce it to account for Omega’s overages in 2019. “I think you’ll see a much more open and robust dialogue on how the fishery should be regulated compared to the state legislature, where you’d just have to wait to see what they came out with. Recreational fishing and conservation groups can have a greater seat at the table,” said Leonard.
The panelists also seemed to agree that there’s little reason for the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission not to vote for a more holistic management model for menhaden at their upcoming meeting. Taking into account the value of these fish—not only to the marine food web, and striped bass in particular, but also to water quality in the Bay—makes sense, said David Sikorsky, executive director of CCA Maryland. And shifting to this model allows us to gather better data on whether there is a localized depletion of menhaden in the Bay, said Chris Moore, a scientist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
Watch the full presentation below to see how panelists answered questions about a possible ban on purse seines, whether we can expect an increase in fish populations soon after this management shift, and how this model could be applied in the Gulf of Mexico and with other embattled forage fish, like shad and herring.
TRCP’s other panel takes us from an issue where sportsmen and women have helped achieve success to an urgent need for hunters and anglers to engage: As elected officials craft legislation to boost the economy and put Americans back to work, we have a unique opportunity to prioritize habitat restoration and natural infrastructure projects that create jobs.
An infusion of government funding would provide certainty to the businesses and workers who design and build projects, manufacture and sell equipment, plant native vegetation and trees, and contribute to Gulf Coast restoration in other ways, said Scott Kirkpatrick of the Coast Builders Coalition. A lot of this work has thankfully been able to continue during the pandemic, he added, with engineers able to work from home, some construction workers being deemed essential personnel, and outdoor job sites being safer than others.
TRCP’s Chief Policy Officer Steve Kline went on to outline the various legislative efforts already in motion to carve out funding for shovel-ready projects and jobs at every level of the economic spectrum, from heavy machinery operators to entry-level biologists. His list includes the Water Resources Development Act, a five-year Highway Bill, and the Great American Outdoors Act as well as yet-to-be-introduced economic recovery bills.
And Congressman Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) appeared via pre-recorded video to share his view that investing in habitat restoration and natural infrastructure has benefits for the economy but also for mitigating the impacts of climate change.
Watch the full presentation below for answers to audience questions about the prospect of maintaining Everglades restoration funding and addressing invasive species like Asian carp during this economic downturn.
These panel discussions were made possible with the support of TRCP’s sponsors: NOAA Fisheries, the American Sportfishing Association, Bass Pro Shops, Costa, Peak Design, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and Power Pole.
TRCP experts were also featured in two additional conservation seminars hosted by ICAST architects at the American Sportfishing Association.
On Monday, President and CEO Whit Fosburgh argued that the devil is in the details when it comes to executing the idea of protecting 30 percent of lands and waters by 2030, which has been proposed by the United Nations and some state and national decision-makers. “I like big, audacious conservation goals, but a slogan should not be driving policy,” he said, even if on its face “30 by 30” sounds great.
Watch the 22-minute video below to see Fosburgh caution against protecting certain waters without consulting the people who live and breathe conservation every day—sportsmen and women.
Also earlier this week, TRCP’s Chris Macaluso weighed in on the progress made since the 2018 passage of the Modern Fish Act. He addressed how close we might be to seeing federal fisheries managers change decades-old allocations in the video below.
Highlighting standout female leaders who advanced the American conservation movement
Theodore Roosevelt, Aldo Leopold, and John Muir are readily recited by many as the forefathers of the American conservation movement. And though their immense influence is something to be proud of, we’d like to recognize the often-overlooked women whose dedication has helped to shape the modern conservation landscape. Here are eight standouts.
Marjory Stoneman Douglas
Long before water quality in the Everglades was the subject of national news, a young society columnist by the name of Marjory Stoneman Douglas spearheaded a grassroots effort to protect Florida’s sawgrass swamps from being drained and developed. Her extensive research, and the publication of her book “The Everglades: The River of Grass”, changed public perception of this important habitat and led to the creation of Everglades National Park in 1947.
Dubbed the “Grandmother of the Conservation Movement,” Margaret “Mardy” Murie’s activism led to the passage of the Wilderness Act. A trailblazer and writer, Murie grew up in Fairbanks, Alaska, and later went on to become the first female graduate of the University of Alaska. Together with her husband, she made several trips into the Artic—the result of which was her book, “Two in the Far North”, a compelling personal account of her lifelong love of Alaska and a testimonial for the preservation of its wilderness.
Although life would eventually lead her away from the state, she never lost her love of its wild places. She organized the coalition that persuaded President Dwight D. Eisenhower to set aside 8 million acres of wilderness as the Arctic National Wildlife Range, which was later expanded and dubbed the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Carson began her career as an aquatic biologist writing radio scripts for the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries and eventually rose to become editor-in-chief of all publications for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In 1962, she published her seminal work “Silent Spring”, which brought widespread attention to the effects of dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane, an insecticide more commonly known as DDT, on bird populations. The public outcry that followed led to stricter regulations on chemical use in the environment, and Carson has since been credited with helping to launch the environmental movement.
Dr. Sylvia Earle is an oceanographer, aquanaut, author, and the first female to serve as chief scientist of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the federal agency responsible for fisheries management and coastal restoration, among other things. After developing a love for scuba diving in college, Earle went on to specialize in botany, believing that an understanding of marine plant life would be integral to ecosystem preservation.
As founder of Mission Blue, a global coalition to improve ocean protection measures and restore the world’s marine ecosystems, Earle utilizes the power of modern media to inform the public and decision-makers about the effects of overfishing, pollution, and climate change while advocating for habitat protection and restoration.
Anne LaBastille was a woman who could have out-Thoreau-ed Thoreau himself. She built her influence through a successful writing career while living in a small cabin in a remote part of the Adirondack wilderness.
Her four-volume autobiographical series “Woodswoman”, published in 1976, has inspired decades of women to get outdoors and enjoy self-sufficient pursuits like hunting and fishing. And her 1980 book “Women and the Wilderness” addressed the historically male-dominated culture of conservation and put a spotlight on female naturalists.
A licensed wilderness guide, this Cornell graduate was also a consummate defender of the Adirondacks and served as commissioner of the Adirondack Park Agency from 1975 to 1993.
Mollie H. Beattie
Appointed as the first female director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1993 by President Clinton, Beattie fiercely opposed the dismantling and defunding of the Endangered Species Act and Clean Water Act in Congress. She was a forester by training and put great emphasis on managing habitat and the economy by stressing the responsibility of private landowners to effectively steward forest lands.
Unfortunately, her tenure with the Service was cut short by a fatal brain tumor, but not before she oversaw the establishment of 15 national wildlife refuges, the signing of more than 100 habitat conservation plans with private landowners, and the reintroduction of the gray wolf into the northern Rocky Mountains.
Lisa P. Jackson
Jackson started her career at the Environmental Protection Agency as a staff-level scientist before working her way up to the position of Administrator over the course of her career. The fourth woman and first Black American to hold the position, Jackson has spearheaded environmental programs to protect clean water, reduce harmful emissions, and protect at-risk communities.
After growing up in an outdoor-loving family, an adult Mapp was surprised to find that she was the only African American woman in her hiking groups and bike trips. Determined to get more members of her community involved in the outdoors, Mapp founded Outdoor Afro, a nonprofit organization dedicated to connecting Black Americans with outdoor spaces. Mapp’s goal is to shift the visual representation of what getting out into nature in America looks like and provide outdoor leadership training for people of color.
Her work has successfully connected underrepresented communities to nature and the benefits of spending more time outdoors. She currently serves on the boards of the Outdoor Industry Association the Wilderness Society, helping to shape conservation initiatives. She has also been named a National Geographic fellow.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
WHAT WILL FEWER HUNTERS MEAN FOR CONSERVATION?
The precipitous drop in hunter participation should be a call to action for all sportsmen and women, because it will have a significant ripple effect on key conservation funding models.