Cantwell Says She Will Oppose Pebble Mine if Science Determines it Could Hurt Wild Salmon Fishery Jobs
Cantwell calls on EPA to use the Clean Water Act to protect Bristol Bay, one of the most productive salmon runs in the world supporting thousands of WA state jobs
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) said that she would oppose development of the world’s largest hard rock mine, the Pebble Mine, in Alaska’s Bristol Bay watershed should science determine it could negatively impact the salmon populations on which thousands of Washington commercial fishery, seafood processing, culinary, recreational fishing, and ecotourism jobs depend. Cantwell is the first U.S. Senator to call on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to block any large development project in Bristol Bay – like the Pebble Mine proposal – if the EPA finds that this development would harm salmon and the livelihoods that depend on salmon.
In a letter sent today to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, Cantwell expressed her support of the EPA’s decision to conduct a thorough scientific analysis of the effect a large-scale development project would have on the Bristol Bay watershed, adding that the Bristol Bay salmon populations are “economic lynchpins” for commercial fishermen not just in Alaska but also in Washington state.
Bristol Bay is one of the most productive salmon runs in the world, generating a total value of at least $500 million dollars each year for commercial and recreational fisheries. Thousands of Washington state jobs, including processing and the restaurant industry, depend on healthy, sustainable salmon populations. In 2008, Bristol Bay yielded over $113 million dollars in total value for Washington state commercial fisheries while recreational salmon fisheries yielded an additional $75 million for Washington state businesses alone.
“A science driven, independent process 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,” Cantwell wrote in the letter sent today. “Bristol Bay, one of the only remaining undeveloped salmon habitats, supports the world’s largest sockeye salmon fisheries, one of the largest king salmon runs, and abundant trophy rainbow trout. …Nearly a thousand Washingtonians hold commercial fishing permits in Bristol Bay, supporting thousands more fishery jobs in my state.”
“Thousands of my constituents have contacted me expressing their concerns regarding the potentially catastrophic and widespread long-term impacts of the proposed Pebble Mine, which would be the world’s largest man-made excavation,” Cantwell continued in the letter. “Should scientists determine that pollution from a large-scale development in the Bristol Bay watershed could have unacceptable adverse impacts on water quality and the fish stocks that depend on it, I would support efforts to prohibit or appropriately restrict such activities, including the utilization of Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act.”
The Pebble Mine is currently under consideration for proposal by British-based Anglo-American, PLC, and Canadian-based Northern Dynasty Minerals, Ltd. According to the companies’ review of the proposed mine site, fully mining the copper, gold, molybdenum, and other metals would produce over seven billion tons of waste rock, a toxic stew that would be deposited in massive new artificial lakes. Seepage into the groundwater could adversely impact the Bristol Bay watershed, which is the main outflow for the rivers and streams in the proposed mine area. Contaminated water and industrial mining activities would threaten the pristine local environment and the diverse marine and terrestrial life that depend on it, in particular the wild and healthy salmon populations that thrive in the watershed and a robust sport fishing industry.
In addition to commercial fishery jobs, nearly all the major seafood corporations that process Bristol Bay catches are based in Washington, including Snopac Products, Peter Pan Seafoods, Ocean Beauty, Alaska General Seafoods, Icicle, North Pacific Seafoods, and Leader Creek.
“Hunters and anglers in Alaska and Washington applaud Senator Cantwell’s strong position on Bristol Bay,” said Tim Bristol, Alaska Program Director for Trout Unlimited, a national conservation organization. “The commercial fishing and sport fishing resources in this area are an economic engine that have far reaching positive impacts and we need to make sure that the hard working families and businesses who make a living in Bristol Bay are protected.”
“I would like to thank Senator Cantwell for her support of protecting Bristol Bay, Alaska,” said Travis Campbell, President and CEO of Far Bank Enterprises, the parent company of Washington state-based Sage Fly Rods, the world’s largest manufacturer of fly rods. “Far Bank Enterprises employs 125 Washingtonians, and a meaningful portion of our business comes directly, or indirectly, from Bristol Bay’s fisheries. The rivers within the region play host to some of the best sport fishing in the world. Protecting its salmon and trout populations from the Pebble Mine is one of the top priorities for anglers across the country, and especially for many right here in Washington. We are grateful for Senator Cantwell’s leadership in protecting one of our last, great sources of wild fish.”
“I appreciate Senator Cantwell’s leadership and courage in standing up for Bristol Bay and the thousands of Washingtonians who rely on its waters to support their businesses and families,” said Warren Johnson, Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association Board Member, small business owner, and Bristol Bay commercial fisherman based in Washington state. “Bristol Bay is not only one of our most precious resources; it’s also a major source of income for commercial fishermen who come from across the country to earn an income from the bay’s plentiful salmon. Senator Cantwell deserves our thanks and praise in recognizing that the EPA has an important role to play in protecting Bristol Bay for generations to come.”
EPA is conducting a scientific analysis of the Bristol Bay watershed to help the agency understand how future large-scale development may affect water quality and the salmon fishery. The information the agency gathers is intended to help guide future actions to protect the waters and promote sustainable development. EPA will study information related specifically to the Pebble Mine because it is the most likely large-scale development project in the near term future. EPA does have the authority, under Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act, to restrict, prohibit, deny, or withdraw the use of a water body as a disposal site for dredged or fill material – such as mining and other waste – if the discharge will have unacceptable adverse impacts on municipal water supplies, shellfish beds and fishery areas, wildlife, or recreational areas.
Cantwell has consistently supported sustaining our healthy, wild salmon populations. On July 21, 2011, Cantwell and Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) introduced legislation that would sustain thriving wild salmon populations – or “salmon strongholds” – to preserve the economic, ecological, cultural, and health benefits of wild Pacific salmon for future generations. The bill is backed by all eight U.S. Senators representing the four Pacific Coast states: Senators Cantwell, Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Mark Begich (D-AK), Patty Murray (D-WA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). The bill is scheduled to be marked up in the Senate Commerce Committee this fall.
Cantwell introduced similar salmon stronghold legislation during both the 110th and 111th congresses and has long supported salmon recovery programs, including prioritizing funding for the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund.
The complete text of the letter sent today to EPA Administrator Jackson follows:
September 12, 2011
Lisa Jackson, Administrator
Environmental Protection Agency
Ariel Rios Building
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20460
Dear Administrator Jackson,
I write in support of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) decision to conduct a scientific analysis of the effect a large-scale development project could have on the Bristol Bay watershed. A science driven, independent process 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. The potentially devastating impacts – both economic and environmental – of mining activities or fill material and mining waste reaching waters that support valuable salmon fisheries must be thoroughly examined and evaluated through the most rigid scientific standards.
Wild salmon populations around the world are disappearing at an alarming rate. Bristol Bay, one of the only remaining undeveloped salmon habitats, supports the world’s largest sockeye salmon fisheries, one of the largest king salmon runs, and abundant trophy rainbow trout.
EPA’s assessment should focus on a transparent, science-based process which relies on a broad range of experts and peer-reviewed research. To aid this effort, I strongly recommend the EPA collaborate and leverage the expertise of other key federal agencies. In particular, I recommend that the Agency utilize the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the United States Geological Survey (USGS) who have unique Bristol Bay regional data. NMFS scientists at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center in Seattle regularly conduct stock assessment surveys in the Bristol Bay ecosystem which can provide essential baseline data required for EPA’s study. In addition, the work of experts at the USGS will be invaluable to the EPA in characterizing the long-term risk tectonic activity could have on the integrity of any toxic tailing pools.
In addition to the many scientific questions which will be addressed by EPA’s analysis, I also ask you to please keep in mind that the salmonid populations in Bristol Bay are economic lynchpins for commercial fishermen, not just of Alaska but also of my home state of Washington. Thousands of my constituents have contacted me expressing their concerns regarding the potentially catastrophic and widespread long-term impacts of the proposed Pebble Mine, which would be the world’s largest man-made excavation. Nearly a thousand Washingtonians hold commercial fishing permits in Bristol Bay, supporting thousands more fishery jobs in my state. In 2008, Bristol Bay commercial fisheries – including a catch of around 42 million sockeye – yielded over $113 million dollars while recreational salmon fisheries yielded an additional $75 million for Washington State businesses alone. In total, the Bristol Bay commercial and recreational salmon fisheries are worth at least half a billion dollars annually.
Due to the importance of this issue to Washington State and the Pacific Northwest, I would greatly appreciate being informed about all developments on this matter. Should scientists determine that pollution from a large-scale development in the Bristol Bay watershed could have unacceptable adverse impacts on water quality and the fish stocks that depend on it, I would support efforts to prohibit or appropriately restrict such activities, including the utilization of Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act.
United States Senator
cc: Dennis McLerran, EPA Region 10 Administrator
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