Cantwell to EPA: ‘Consider Proposed Alaska Mine’s Impact on Washington State Jobs’

Proposed Bristol Bay, Alaska mine could devastate salmon run that supports $113 million of business in Washington state

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) urged the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to consider the impact on Washington state jobs as it determines whether to permit a mine in Bristol Bay, Alaska.

In a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, Regional Administrator Dennis McLaren, and Nancy Sutley, Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality with the Executive Office of the President, Cantwell noted that thousands of Washington state jobs and $113 million per year in business depend on Bristol Bay, which supports the most productive salmon run in the world. Cantwell’s letter comes one day in advance of the EPA’s public hearing in Seattle about the potential impact of a large-scale Bristol Bay development.

“Thousands of my constituents have contacted me expressing their concerns regarding the widespread, long-term impacts that the proposed Pebble Mine would have on the natural resources they rely on for their livelihoods,” Cantwell said. “This fishery is a unique and irreplaceable asset that supports tens of thousands of commercial and recreational fishing, boat building, outfitting, processing, restaurant, and support jobs. I will continue to fight to ensure any future large-scale development decisions in the Bristol Bay watershed are based on sound science.”

Cantwell joined Washington fishermen and businesses today at Fisherman’s Terminal to highlight the impact of a Bristol Bay mine on Washington jobs. Cantwell was joined by: Norm Van Vactor of Leader Creek Seafoods in Seattle; Ben Blakey, a third-generation Bristol Bay fisherman with Snopac Seafoods in Seattle; Larry Barrett of Sage Manufacturing on Bainbridge Island; and Kevin Davis of Seattle’s Blue Acre Seafood and Steelhead Diner.

A draft report released by the EPA last week indicates that the proposed Bristol Bay Pebble Mine would harm salmon habitat. According to the agency’s study, at minimum the mine would include a 1,300 square acre mine pit – about 18 times the size of Seattle Center – and an additional 3,600 acre reservoir to contain the mine’s toxic byproducts and waste rock. The proposed project could block up to 87 miles of streams critical to spawning salmon and trout species. A mining complex would also contain facilities for ore processing rock, and huge manmade reservoirs to be used for long-term storage of waste rock and chemicals used to extract metals from the rock.

Those developments could threaten Washington state jobs and businesses that depend on the bay’s healthy, sustainable wild salmon populations.

Bristol Bay’s salmon runs generate a total value of approximately $500 million dollars each year and support 14,000 full and part-time jobs -- including thousands in Washington state. Nearly 1,000 Washingtonians hold commercial fishing permits for the bay. Commercial fishing, in turn, supports jobs in the seafood processing, shipbuilding and restaurant industry. In 2008, Bristol Bay yielded more than $113 million dollars in total value for Washington state commercial fishermen. Recreational salmon fishing and tourism yielded an additional $164 million.

Earlier in May, Cantwell had asked EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to hold a hearing in Seattle after the agency released its draft watershed assessment on May 18th. The EPA is also holding public hearings in Alaska June 4th through 7th.

The EPA will release a final report on Bristol Bay this year.

In a September 2011 letter to 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 complete text of the letter sent today to the EPA follows:

Lisa Jackson, Administrator
Environmental Protection Agency
Ariel Rios Building
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20460

Dear Administrator Jackson,

I am writing to you in response to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) external review draft of “An Assessment of the Potential Mining Impacts on Salmon Ecosystems of Bristol Bay, Alaska” (EPA910-R-12-004d), which was released earlier this month. The draft assessment provides a clear scientific basis for the concerns of thousands of Alaska and Washington fishermen and many other stakeholders that large scale mining development in the Bristol Bay watershed--like the proposed Pebble Mine-- could have devastating impacts on ecosystems that support millions of wild salmon, and tens of thousands of jobs which rely on them.

It is important that EPA continues to adhere to science-based decision making. The EPA dedicated significant resources and contracted top scientists to conduct serious and detailed analyses to produce this robust scientific report. I find it particularly informative because the EPA was able to draw upon Pebble’s own data, analysis and preliminary mine proposal documents such as the February 2011 Wardrop report, commissioned by Northern Dynasty Minerals.

I found the following EPA findings particularly telling:

• “… an operation of this size would inevitably destroy or degrade habitat of salmonid fish.

• The mine footprint would eliminate or block 87.5 km of streams under the minimum mine size and 141.4 km under the maximum mine size, of which 21.7 and 33.8 km, respectively, support spawning and rearing habitat for coho, Chinook, and sockeye salmon and Dolly Varden.

• Wetlands would be filled or excavated in 10.2 km2 and 17.3 km2 of the mine footprint under the minimum and maximum mine sizes, respectively.

• Enormous water withdrawals would reduce stream flows and degrade additional stream and wetland habitats.”

Thousands of my constituents have contacted me expressing their concerns regarding the widespread, long-term impacts that the proposed Pebble Mine would have on the natural resources they rely on for their livelihoods. About 1,000 Washingtonians hold commercial fishing permits in Bristol Bay, the world’s largest commercial salmon fishery, supporting thousands more sustainable fishery jobs in my state. In addition, thousands of Washingtonians are active recreational fishers in Bristol Bay.

Release of the draft Bristol Bay watershed assessment is a positive first step, but it is critical that we continue to make timely progress towards finalizing the assessment. Thousands of fishermen and sportsmen in Alaska and Washington have contacted me about how the uncertainty created by the Pebble Mine and EPA’s unresolved process is beginning to negatively impact their businesses. This fishery is a unique and irreplaceable asset that supports tens of thousands of commercial and recreational fishing, boat building, outfitting, processing, restaurant, and support jobs. We need to send these communities a strong message: continue to invest in your businesses. In order to encourage investment, we need to assure communities that we will protect their rich salmon resources and ways of life from large scale development that would harm wild salmon. To that end, I urge the EPA to maintain the 60 day comment period and finalize the Bristol Bay watershed assessment. That’s why EPA’s timeline must be kept, maintaining July 23rd as the deadline for public comment.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter, the EPA’s dedication to an open and transparent public comment period, and your continued commitment to using sound science in resolving challenging resource use conflicts.


Maria Cantwell
United States Senator


CC: Nancy Sutley, Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality, Executive Office of the President

CC: Dennis McLerran, EPA Region 10 Administrator