A mid fevered protests against Alaska’s proposed Pebble Mine, which included opposition from the Berkley Conservation Institute (BCI), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it will now consider the Clean Water Act in its environmental review process of a proposed mine right on top of the Bristol Bay, Alaska salmon fishery.

The copper mine would be up to a mile deep and over two and half miles wide, and could require the construction of three earthen dams as high as 650 feet tall. It would be the largest ever constructed in North America.

The inclusion of the Clean Water Act is a critical step towards halting the mining project, which, according to a 2013 EPA report, would forever damage a vital sockeye salmon fishery:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is initiating a process under the Clean Water Act to identify appropriate options to protect the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery in Bristol Bay, Alaska from the potentially destructive impacts of the proposed Pebble Mine. The Pebble Mine has the potential to be one of the largest open pit copper mines ever developed and could threaten a salmon resource rare in its quality and productivity. During this process, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers cannot approve a permit for the mine.

Invoking the Clean Water Act generally requires a four step review process before construction could take place.

The mine’s investors—Northern Dynasty Minerals and The Pebble Partnership—would be required to undergo initial consultation with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, publication or the proposed determination (including prohibitions and restrictions), public review with collaboration from the EPA and a second consultation with the Army Corps of Engineers.

“The public interest is far more important than private profit in the case of the Pebble Mine proposal, which threatens a world class fish and wildlife resource,” said Jim Martin, Director of the Berkley Conservation Institute. “Renewable natural resource public benefits should be protected under the Clean Water Act. EPA got it right this time and Administrator Gina McCarthy is exactly the kind of leader we need in Government.”

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy requested that the EPA include the Clean Water Act as a part of the environmental review process for the proposed open-pit, copper-mining operation following the agency’s receipt of numerous appeals and strongly voiced objections from BCI and an array of other concerned groups.

“Bristol Bay is a highly valued world-class fishery that positively impacts thousands of jobs,” said John Doerr, CEO of Pure Fishing. “Unique fisheries like Bristol Bay have to be protected for future generations. The Pebble Mine project presents significant risks to both local, regional and national interests, there simply is too much at stake to allow the Pebble Mine project to move forward.”

Bristol Bay produces nearly 50 percent of the world’s wild sockeye salmon with runs averaging 37.5 million fish each year. The salmon runs are highly productive due to the exceptional water quality in streams and wetlands, which provide valuable salmon habitat. In addition to sockeye, Bristol Bay is also home to all five Pacific salmon species found in North America, as well as more than 20 other fish species; 190 bird species and more than 40 terrestrial mammal species, including bears, moose and caribou.

The pebble deposit is located at the headwaters of Nushagak and Kvichak rivers, which produce about half of the sockeye salmon in Bristol Bay—an area also home to 31 Native Alaskan villages.

The EPA is basing its action on available information, including data collected as a part of the agency’s Bristol Bay ecological risk assessment and mine plans submitted to the Securities and Exchange Commission. On February 28th, Dennis McLerran, EPA Regional Administrator for EPA Region 10, sent letters to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the State of Alaska, and the Pebble Partnership initiating action under EPA’s Clean Water Act Section 404(c) authorities.

According to their release, the EPA has received over 850,000 requests to take action on the mine. And now that the Clean Water Act has been brought into the picture, the Army Corps of Engineers cannot issue a permit for fill in wetlands or streams associated with the proposed mine.

This information was brought to FTR by the Berkley Conservation Institute.