Sept. 9 (UPI) -- The Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday said it would restore protections for waters in Alaska's Bristol Bay and block the construction of a gold mine in the area.
In a court filing, the U.S. Department of Justice announced a request by the EPA to remand and vacate a Trump administration notice in 2019 withdrawing protections for the Bristol Bay Waters under the Clean Water Act.
"The Bristol Bay Watershed is an Alaskan treasure that underscores the critical value of clean water in America," EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan said. "Today's announcement reinforces once again EPA's commitment to making science-based decisions to protect our natural environment. What's at stake is preventing pollution that would disproportionately impact Alaska Natives, and protecting a sustainable future for the most productive salmon fishery in North America."
EPA noted the Bristol Bay watershed provides essential habitats that support all five species of Pacific salmon found in North America, which are critical to the health of the ecosystem that is home to more than 20 fish species, 190 bird species and more than 40 terrestrial mammal species.
Pebble Limited Partnership proposed to build what would be the largest gold and copper mine in North America in the bay but the Obama administration initially blocked the project in 2014.
Trump administration officials later reversed the decision as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers determined the operation would have "no measurable effect" on fish populations in the area but would inflict permanent damage on the region.
The USACE in August 2020, however, said the proposed plans for the mine could not be approved for a permit under the Clean Water Act and it would likely result in "significant adverse effects on the aquatic system or human environment."
In November, the USACE denied Pebble Limited's plan to deal with waste from the mine, saying it "does not comply with Clean Water Act guidelines" and that the project as proposed "is contrary to the public interest."
The mining plan prompted a lawsuit and opposition from activists and local fishing operations and prominent Republicans including Trump's son, Donald Trump Jr.
Pebble Limited Partnership spokesman Mike Heatwole told The Washington Post Thursday it was following the administration's decision regarding the project.
"We will continue to monitor these developments closely to determine the possible impacts to the project and permitting process," Heatwole said.