Cantwell Statement on EPA Announcement that could Protect Washington Fishing Jobs from Pebble Mine

Cantwell: ‘WA and Alaska fishermen depend on Bristol Bay. Mining pollution could threaten 14,000 fishing jobs’

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) released the following statement after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it will begin a process to determine whether the proposed Pebble Mine project should be stopped.  The EPA will undergo a rigorous review process, using its Clean Water Act 404(c) authority to determine potential action to restrict or prevent large-scale mining near Bristol Bay.                                                                                                                                                                          

“I applaud this action today to protect Northwest fishing jobs from being destroyed by the largest open pit mine in North America,” said Cantwell. “Washington and Alaska fishermen depend on Bristol Bay for their livelihoods. Ruining headwaters with mining pollution is too big a risk to existing jobs in Pacific Northwest.

“Today, the administration is saying that potential gold mining is not more important than a $1.5 billion sockeye fishing industry. Gold might be an valuable commodity but it’s not more important than Pacific Northwest salmon.

“Wild salmon populations already face a number of threats,” Cantwell added. “Adding mining pollution to the spawning ground for the world’s number one sockeye salmon fishery doesn't make economic sense. Mining pollution could threaten 14,000 fishing jobs and a critical food source that subsistence fishermen depend on. I will work hard to ensure that fishermen have a voice as the 404C process moves forward. We cannot afford to put thousands of fishing jobs at risk.”

The EPA released a final watershed announcement January 15 that found the Pebble Mine development would negatively impact sockeye salmon populations in Bristol Bay, Alaska.

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 has led the charge to protect Washington state jobs from potentially harmful developments in Bristol Bay, Alaska. In January she held a rally with Chef Tom Douglas, 150 local fishermen and supporters in Seattle to call on President Barack Obama to use his authority under the Clean Water Act to halt the Pebble Mine Project. View a picture from the rally here

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 EPA detailed in its January 15 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.