Bristol Bay Tribes Sue Trump Administration for Illegal Removal of Environmental Protections
On Tuesday, October 8, 2019, NARF’s client the United Tribes of Bristol Bay and other Bristol Bay organizations brought suit against the Trump Administration for its removal of environmental protections for Bristol Bay. In July, Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it would be removing the 2014 protections which were put in place at the direct request of local tribes. The agency made this about-face without providing reason or explanation. In contrast, the protections being removed were the result of years of scientific research, collaboration, and consideration for the local people who rely on the area’s world-class salmon fishery.
In 2010, six Bristol Bay tribal nations requested protections for the area’s water ways and unparalleled salmon runs, which are an integral part of the indigenous peoples’ traditional lifeways. The area’s commercial and sport fisheries also rely on those waters and wild salmon, so it was not surprising that local organizations quickly joined the tribes’ efforts. The protections represented responsible, science-based management of the rivers, streams, and wetlands. Even with this strong local support, it was a multi-year process to gain protections that included input from a wide range of people and businesses that could be affected.
However, Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy continued to support the mining interests of Canadian owned, Pebble Ltd. Partnership who want to dig an immense pit mine in the middle of the pristine Bristol Bay wetlands. In June, Dunleavy briefly met with President Trump on Air Force One; subsequently, he told reporters that he was convinced that the president was “doing everything he can to work with us on our mining concerns.” One day after the meeting, according to CNN, the Environmental Protection Agency held an internal meeting and informed staff that they were reversing course and removing protections for the Bristol Bay.
Despite widespread local support for protecting the bay’s vulnerable water ways and the extensive scientific research backing the protections—and with no further explanation—the agency decided to remove the protections for the bay. The decision was political, arbitrary, capricious, and absolutely illegal. The Bristol Bay Defense Alliance, consisting of United Tribes of Bristol Bay, Bristol Bay Native Association, Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, Bristol Bay Reserve Association and Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation, are taking legal action on behalf of the local people who rely on the Bristol Bay fishery and all it sustains. The suit is based on the fact that the agency changed its position without good reason or explanation, which are required by law.
United Tribes of Bristol Bay Deputy Director Lindsay Layland describes the group’s frustration, “Salmon are more than just food for the people of Bristol Bay. Catching, preserving, and eating salmon are part of a genuine and treasured way of life. As sovereign Native nations, our member Tribes have worked in good faith with the US government to protect our resources. Despite our efforts, however, a corrupt political landscape and a few backroom deals have resulted in the illegal withdrawal of peer-reviewed, science-based environmental protections for the world’s most pristine ecosystem and wild salmon habitat. We are calling out the Federal Administration for this wrongdoing, and we will stand with our partners and the people of Bristol Bay in the work to protect our home.” NARF is proud to stand with the tribal nations as they fight to protect their home and traditions.