Cantwell Statement on EPA Findings of the Impact of a Bristol Bay Mine on WA Fishing Jobs

Cantwell: ‘EPA’s assessment is clear: The proposed Pebble Mine poses a direct threat to Bristol Bay salmon and the jobs that depend on them’

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) released the following statement after the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) final watershed assessment found that the Pebble Mine development would negatively impact sockeye salmon populations in Bristol Bay, Alaska. These negative impacts would threaten salmon, and the thousands of Washington state and Alaska jobs which depend on Bristol Bay sockeye.

“EPA’s scientific assessment is clear: the proposed Pebble Mine poses a direct threat to Bristol Bay salmon and the Pacific Northwest jobs that depend on them,” Cantwell said. “This report provides definitive evidence detailing the devastating impacts the Pebble Mine would have on the Northwest maritime economy. The future of Bristol Bay must be determined by science, not politics. And the science clearly shows that the mine would damage up to 94 miles of salmon streams and up to 5,300 acres of wetlands.                                                                                                                                                        

“I will continue to fight to protect Washington fishing jobs, clean water and the way of life for Native populations. That’s why I urge the EPA to move forward and use its authority under the Clean Water Act to protect Bristol Bay salmon, and the Northwest fishing economy that depends on them.” 

The EPA detailed 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.