Cantwell, Fishermen to Obama: Protect Bristol Bay Salmon from Mining Pollution
In letter to President, Cantwell calls for federal government to protect Washington fishing jobs from proposed mine
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) urged President Barack Obama to use his authority under the Clean Water Act to prevent a large-scale mine from being developed near Alaska’s Bristol Bay after a recent report found it would threaten salmon runs and Washington state’s commercial fishing industry.
Cantwell made the request in a letter to the Obama administration, which she announced during a rally at Fishermen’s Terminal in Seattle with 150 fishermen and supporters. Chef Tom Douglas, local fishermen, business owners and their supporters joined Cantwell at the rally to illustrate how a proposed large-scale development known as the Pebble Mine near Bristol Bay’s headwaters could damage a $1.5 billion commercial fishing industry.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a final watershed announcement January 15 that found the Pebble Mine development would negatively impact sockeye salmon populations in Bristol Bay, Alaska.
“Decisions on the future of this proposed mine should be made based on sound science,” Cantwell wrote. “Now, the science is in: the proposed Pebble Mine would have devastating and irreversible impacts on Bristol Bay salmon and our maritime economy which depends on them.”
The EPA report – based on Canadian mining company Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd’s own documents – showed potential negative impacts that would threaten salmon, and the thousands of Washington state and Alaska jobs which depend on Bristol Bay sockeye. Currently, Bristol Bay supports 6,000 fishing jobs in Washington, Oregon and California. A large percentage of the Bristol Bay fishery is based in Seattle. Cantwell said that action is needed to ensure polluters don’t damage critical Bristol Bay salmon habitat that support Washington state’s maritime economy.
“I write you today to urge your Administration to use its authority to safeguard the headwaters of Bristol Bay, Alaska, and keep them protected from devastating mining pollutants. Washington state's maritime economy is worth more than $30 billion in economic activity annually, supporting 148,000 jobs,” Cantwell continued in the letter to Obama. “Recent scientific evidence shows that pollutants from the proposed development of large scale mining near Bristol Bay would irreversibly harm this vital salmon habitat and put in danger Washington's entire maritime economy.”
At today’s rally other speakers – including Douglas, third-generation commercial fisherman Ben Blakey, and Tom Sunderland of Seattle-based Ocean Beauty Seafoods -- highlighted the importance of Bristol Bay salmon to Washington state’s economy and the danger Pebble Mine poses to the livelihoods of fishermen.
The EPA detailed in its assessment how a large-scale mine project would hurt salmon, Alaska Natives and fishermen who work in the region. The assessment also documents how the dam that would be built to contain toxic mine waste is susceptible to damage, and if breached would have ‘catastrophic impacts on fishery resources.’
In the report the EPA states that if the mine is built:
- 24-94 miles of salmon streams would be destroyed
- An additional 48-62 miles of streams could be contaminated with toxic mine waste
- 1,300-5,350 acres of wetlands would be destroyed
Thousands of Washington state jobs – including commercial and recreational fishing, processing, shipbuilding and the restaurant industry – depend on Bristol Bay’s healthy, sustainable wild salmon populations. A University of Alaska Institute of Social and Economic Research (ISER) study found that the value of Bristol Bay commercial salmon fishing generates $1.5 billion in economic activity.
The report also found that Bristol Bay salmon fishing and processing is worth $674 million to Washington, Oregon and California while creating 12,000 seasonal jobs and approximately 6,000 full-time jobs in those three Pacific coastal states. Nearly 1,000 Washingtonians hold commercial fishing permits in Bristol Bay. Recreational salmon fishers yielded an additional $75 million for Washington state businesses alone.
Cantwell has worked to protect Washington state jobs from potentially harmful developments in Bristol Bay, Alaska. In June 2013, Cantwell led a letter with five West Coast Senators to President Obama urging the administration to consider the impact a proposed mine near Bristol Bay would have on the West Coast fishing industry.
Also, in a September 2011 letter to former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, Cantwell became the first U.S. Senator to call on the EPA to use its Clean Water Act 404(c) authority to block any large development project in Bristol Bay if science determined that the project would “have unacceptable adverse impacts on water quality and the fish stocks that depend on it.”
On May 30, 2012, she wrote a letter to Jackson, Regional Administrator Dennis McLaren, and Nancy Sutley, Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality with the Executive Office of the President, urging them to consider the impact of a mine on the thousands of Washington state jobs and $113 million per year in business that depend on Bristol Bay. She also joined Washington fishermen and businesses on that day at Fishermen’s Terminal in Seattle to highlight the impact of a Bristol Bay mine on Washington jobs.
Cantwell was also successful in requesting that the EPA hold a public hearing in Seattle on May 31, 2012 to discuss how large scale development near Bristol Bay – like the Pebble Mine proposal – could hurt salmon and Washington state jobs.
The full text of the letter follows.
Dear President Obama:
I write you today to urge your Administration to use its authority to safeguard the headwaters of Bristol Bay, Alaska, and keep them protected from devastating mining pollutants. Washington state's maritime economy is worth more than $30 billion in economic activity annually, supporting 148,000 jobs. Of those jobs, 33,500 are supported by the fishing industry -- nearly half of which are directly connected to Bristol Bay salmon-fishing. Recent scientific evidence shows that pollutants from the proposed development of large scale mining near Bristol Bay would irreversibly harm this vital salmon habitat and put in danger Washington's entire maritime economy.
Decisions on the future of this proposed mine should be made based on sound science. After three years of rigorous scientific analysis, peer review, public comment and public hearings, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published its findings regarding the proposed mine on January 15, 2014, in the finalized Assessment of Potential Mining Impacts on Salmon Ecosystems of Bristol Bay, Alaska (EPA 910-R-14-001).
Now, the science is in: the proposed Pebble Mine would have devastating and irreversible impacts on Bristol Bay salmon and our maritime economy which depends on them. The EPA Assessment clearly and methodically outlines how a number of large-scale mining scenarios in the headwaters of Bristol Bay would catastrophically impact wild salmon. The Assessment pulled data from Canadian mining company Northern Dynasty's own business and technical mine plan which was submitted in its Security and Exchange Commission filings on February 24, 2011. In summary, the Assessment found that between 24 and 94 miles of salmon producing streams would be completely destroyed in normal, safe operation of the mine-without factoring in any failures, unintended pollution, or dam breaching. In addition, between 1,300 and 5,350 acres of wetlands would also be completely ruined.
The mine site would require the construction of a huge earthen dam, with some mining scenarios requiring that dam to be the world's largest. This dam would be used to contain toxic waste, including arsenic and copper. Soil properties in the region indicate that toxic tailings would leach into the groundwater creating even more impacts to the Bristol Bay ecosystem. Leaching of these chemicals is considered to be unavoidable and therefore the mine would require extensive water treatment in perpetuity which could cost exorbitant taxpayer dollars. There are a number of high-risk variables in the region that would impact the integrity of the mine and support facilities. Seismic activity in the area puts that mine at risk for breaching, leaks and catastrophic failure. A mine failure and subsequent release of mine tailings and toxic waste would impact the entire Bristol Bay ecosystem for thousands of years.
EPA Assessment provides unequivocal evidence of the irreversible harm the mine would pose to the 14,000 direct salmon-fishing jobs in Bristol Bay. In addition to direct jobs impacts, thousands of indirect jobs are at risk in industries ranging from shipbuilding, to gear manufacturing, logistics and seafood processing.
I have heard from numerous Native American tribes with concerns about the impact of the proposed mine on subsistence fishing. About 5,000 Alaska Native people have relied on Bristol Bay salmon for thousands of years. Subsistence fisheries for basic nutrition, culture and the way of life in the Bristol Bay watershed would be drastically altered if the mine were constructed.
Again, the science is clear: the Pebble Mine poses a direct threat to Bristol Bay salmon, maritime jobs and Alaska native people. I urge the Administration to file a notice of the "Proposed Determination" in the Federal Register under the 404 (c) authority in the Clean Water Act to prohibit or restrict the development of the Pebble Mine or similar large-scale mining activity in the headwaters of Bristol Bay. This section of the Clean Water Act has rarely invoked: it has only been used 13 times since enactment - including President Ronald Reagan's work to protect the Florida Everglades. But this proposed mine's potential devastation is so extreme that it warrants invoking such a rarely used authority.
Thank you for your attention to this critical matter for the Northwest economy.
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