Cantwell on Senate Floor: “No Company Will Ever Be Able to Stick a Mine on Top of Some of the Best Salmon Habitat in the World”

Cantwell was the first U.S. Senator to raise concerns about the Pebble Mine proposal; Bristol Bay salmon generate $2.2 billion annually, including $500 million in WA state, & support thousands of jobs

WASHINGTON, DC. -- Today, Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), the first U.S. Senator to oppose the Pebble Mine proposal and champion of the Bristol Bay watershed, delivered a speech on the Senate floor celebrating this morning’s announcement from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

After a 12 year-long battle, the EPA announced their final determination to approve permanent Clean Water Act protections for Alaska’s Bristol Bay, effectively blocking the Pebble Mine proposal.

“No company will ever be able to stick a mine on top of some of the best salmon habitat in the world. Salmon fishermen from Alaska and from my home state of Washington will continue to earn their livelihoods from Bristol Bay salmon as they have for generations,” Sen. Cantwell said in her floor speech. “Today, Bristol Bay salmon fisheries are a $2.2 billion annual industry. They support over 15,000 jobs in the Pacific Northwest and nationwide. That is through commercial fishing, recreational fishing, tourism, seafood, restaurants, shipbuilding, and other associated industries.”

A transcript of the whole speech can be found HERE. Video is available HERE.

Sen. Cantwell was the first U.S. Senator to publicly 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.

“Salmon returning to their spawning grounds don't need to flow through toxic waste,” Sen. Cantwell told the hosts of MSNBC’s Morning Joe this morning. “This is the wrong idea, in the wrong place, at the wrong time.”

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

  • Harvesting, processing, and selling Bristol Bay salmon generates $2.2 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 15,000 jobs nationwide.
  • 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. Furthermore, a failure of the massive dam waste containment system could permanently damage the entire Bristol Bay ecosystem.

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 and 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 2011, Sen. Cantwell sent a letter to then EPA Administrator Jackson urging the Administration conduct a “science driven, independent process [which is] critical to evaluating the potential risks a new large-scale hard rock mine, such as the proposed Pebble Mine, could have on water quality in this pristine world-class salmonid habitat.”
  • 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 March 2013, Sen. Cantwell wrote a letter to the Securities and Exchange Commission to investigate Northern Dynasty Minerals for contradictory information that could’ve been used to mislead investors, or be considered fraudulent testimony given to the EPA.
  • 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.

Video footage of Sen. Cantwell’s floor speech can be found HERE, audio can be found HERE, and a transcript of her remarks can be found HERE. Photos of Sen. Cantwell meeting with Seattle-area fishermen protesting the Bristol Bay proposal in 2012, 2014 and 2018 can be found HERE.