Cantwell, First U.S. Senator to Oppose Pebble Mine, Celebrates EPA Decision to Save Prolific Bristol Bay Salmon Run

Cantwell: “This is the final nail in the coffin for the Pebble Mine;” Bristol Bay salmon generate $500 million annually for WA state and support 5,000 jobs

WASHINGTON, DC. — Today, after a 12 year-long battle, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced their final determination to approve permanent Clean Water Act protections for Alaska’s Bristol Bay, blocking the Pebble Mine proposal.

“This is the final nail in the coffin for the Pebble Mine. The science is clear, the mine would have devastated Bristol Bay salmon and the thousands of hardworking families that depend on salmon for their livelihoods, subsistence, and recreation,” said Sen. Cantwell. “The EPA’s decision to permanently protect Bristol Bay is the culmination of a hard fought battle, and I am proud to have stood with fishing families, communities, Tribes, and the whole Pacific Northwest Region to oppose the Pebble Mine for more than a decade. Now, we will have a thriving Bristol Bay salmon run for generations to come.”

Sen. Cantwell was the first U.S. Senator to oppose the Pebble Mine, and for more than a decade has been the leading Senate voice against the project. In 2011, Sen. Cantwell called on the EPA to block the Pebble Mine proposal if the EPA found that the development would harm Bristol Bay salmon, which she called “economic lynchpins” for commercial fishermen in Alaska and the State of Washington.

Bristol Bay is one of the most productive salmon runs in the world; 40-60 million salmon return to the watershed every year.

  • Harvesting, processing, and selling Bristol Bay salmon generates $1.5 billion in annual economic activity across the United States.
  • Bristol Bay salmon generate an annual value of at least $500 million for commercial and recreational fisheries in the State of Washington.
  • Bristol Bay salmon support over 5,000 fishery jobs in Washington state and 14,000 jobs globally.
  • Sixty percent of Washington State’s $30 billion maritime economy is tied to the seafood industry.

The Pebble Mine proposal, which would have extracted gold, copper and molybdenum located in the headwaters of the Kvichak and Nushagak Rivers, two of the eight major rivers that feed Bristol Bay, threatened irreparable harm to the watershed.

In 2020, the EPA found that more than 191 miles of streams and 4,614 acres of wetlands would be impacted during construction of the Pebble Mine, with 185 miles ad 3,841 acres of wetlands permanently damaged or destroyed.

A 2014 EPA report also noted that the Bristol Bay watershed supports the largest sockeye salmon run in the world, producing 46% of the world’s wild sockeye harvest. The Nushagak River that feeds into Bristol Bay supports one of the world’s largest Chinook salmon runs, which is essential to the survival of Puget Sound’s Southern resident orcas.

Sen. Cantwell’s actions over the last 12 years include:

  • In 2012, Sen. Cantwell successfully urged the EPA to hold public meetings about the proposal in Seattle in addition to Alaska. One year later, Sen. Cantwell spearheaded a letter calling on the Obama Administration to consider a new economic report that clearly outlined the potentially devastating impacts of the Pebble Mine proposal.
  • In January of 2014, Sen. Cantwell rallied with fishermen and local chefs at Seattle's Fisherman's Terminal to urge the Obama administration to cancel the mine project.
  • In 2017, Sen. Cantwell led 37 House and Senate colleagues, including members of the Washington delegation, in urging the Trump Administration to listen to Washington fishermen and businesses before removing the science-based protections in place. In public statements Sen. Cantwell called Trump's decision "foolish," "short-sighted," and "reckless.”
  • In 2018, Sen. Cantwell called on the Army Corps of Engineers to hold public meetings in the State of Washington as they reviewed the environmental impacts of the proposal. At hearings in 2019 and 2020, Sen. Cantwell pressed NOAA officials and the nominee for NOAA administrator.
  • When a secret recording of mining executives caught them contradicting their own permit applications in 2020, Sen. Cantwell called for a Department of Justice investigation. The consistent public pressure rallied opposition and the Trump administration eventually stood down.