Cantwell Statement on EPA Proposal to Protect Fisheries from Pebble Mine Pollution

Cantwell: ‘This is another science-based step toward saving thousands of Pacific Northwest and Alaskan fishing jobs’

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

On Monday, July 21, the EPA will begin a public comment period on the proposed provision to restrict Bristol Bay Pebble Mine construction under the authority of the Clean Water Act 404(c).

“This is another science-based step toward saving thousands of Pacific Northwest and Alaskan fishing jobs from the catastrophic impacts of the Pebble Mine,” Cantwell said. “The Pebble Mine would have a mine pit as deep as the Grand Canyon and destroy miles of productive salmon habitat.  The EPA's proposed determination to limit fill into key salmon bearing rivers in Bristol Bay, Alaska, is great news for fishermen, sportsmen and Alaska Native people.  The science is clear: even the smallest Pebble Mine footprint would have catastrophic and irreversible detrimental impacts on Bristol Bay salmon.” 

“That’s why I will continue to oppose top-down political maneuvers like HR 4854, which are aimed at preventing the EPA from protecting American waterways from polluters.”

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

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.

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.”

The EPA’s January 15 report – based on Canadian mining company Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd’s own documents – showed that if the mine was constructed, there would be severe negative impacts that would threaten salmon, and the thousands of Washington state and Alaska jobs which depend on Bristol Bay sockeye.

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

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.