Oregon Lawmakers Caution Administration over Removal of Environmental Rules Protecting Alaska’s Bristol Bay
Washington, D.C. – Oregon’s Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley and Reps. Suzanne Bonamici, Peter DeFazio, Earl Blumenauer and Kurt Schrader joined several of their House and Senate colleagues in sending a forceful letter to the White House urging caution and a careful consideration of the facts before the Trump administration removes the science-based environmental rules that protect Alaska’s Bristol Bay and the jobs of the fishermen who depend on it.
Removing the existing clean water protections allows for the construction of Pebble Mine, an open-pit copper and gold mine that could have a depth equivalent to as much as two and a half Trump Towers. The mine would be an unmitigated catastrophe for the Bristol Bay watershed and the 40-60 million salmon who return to it every year. A three-year Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) study in 2014 found that the proposed mine would, even in the course of normal, safe mine operations, destroy 24 to 94 miles of salmon-producing waterways and pristine environment.
The University of Alaska Institute of Social and Economic Research found that the Bristol Bay fishery supports more than 20,000 jobs and adds $674 million of economic activity to the states of Washington, Oregon, and California. The region also supports a prolific outdoor recreation industry; anglers from around the world take roughly 37,000 fishing trips annually to Bristol Bay, generating $60 million in economic activity.
“The EPA’s plan to reverse clean water safeguards is egregious and inconsistent with science, and frankly, inconsistent with basic logic,” the members of Congress wrote. “The Pebble Mine directly threatens our maritime economy and thousands of American jobs that rely on this world class fishery. We ask you to listen to America’s fishermen and businesses and reverse EPA’s decision to undo strong protections and clean water safeguards in Bristol Bay.”
The Oregon lawmakers and their colleagues note the process that established the current clean water safeguards were the result of rigorous scientific analysis and peer review, over one million public comments, and eight public hearings.
In stark contrast, the Trump administration’s recent decision to roll back the protections has no scientific basis and has been carefully removed from the public eye. There has been no input from stakeholders such as the fishing, tourism, and outdoor industries. Only two public hearings have been noticed, neither of which are scheduled for Washington, Oregon or California where many Bristol Bay commercial and sports fishermen reside.
In their letter, the members of Congress also called for public hearings, a 90-day extension of the public comment period, and other transparency measures to ensure the public is allowed to make their voices heard. Restrictions on mining have the support of 90% of local Bristol Bay residents.
Additional cosigners of the letter include: Senators Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Patty Murray, D-Wash., Kamala Harris, D-Calif., Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., Edward Markey, D-Mass., and Representatives Jared Huffman, D-Calif., Barbara Lee, D-Calif., Grace Napolitano, D-Calif., Jackie Speier, D-Calif., Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., William Keating, D-Mass., Adam Smith, D-Wash., Denny Heck, D-Wash., Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-District of Columbia, Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., Alan Lowenthal, D-Calif., Dwight Evans, D-Pa., Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., Jamie Raskin, D-Md., Emanual Cleaver, II, D-Mo., Rick Larsen, D-Wash., Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., Mark DeSaulnier, D-Calif., Judy Chu, D-Calif., Ro Khanna, D-Calif., Jerry McNerney, D-Calif., John Garamendi, D-Calif., Suzan DelBene, D-Wash., Kurt Schrader, Jimmy Panetta, D-Calif., Donald S. Beyer, Jr., D-Va., Norma Torres, D-Calif., Doris Matsui, D-Calif., Ted Lieu, D-Calif., Linda Sánchez, D-Calif., Julia Brownley, D-Calif., and Salud Carbajal, D-Calif.
A copy of the letter can be found here and below.
October 11, 2017
Dear Mr. President,
We write to express our deep concern regarding the proposed Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay, Alaska. Recently, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced plans to reverse clean water safeguards put in place to protect Bristol Bay salmon and jobs in west coast states that depend on those salmon. This decision was made without a single public hearing and with zero public input from Bristol Bay fisherman, hunters, anglers, local business owners, and other stakeholders whose livelihoods and way of life will be put at risk by this decision.
We ask that you listen to American fishermen and facilitate opportunities to allow them to engage in the current process through public hearings throughout west coast states, similar to the transparency measures undertaken during the 404(c) process. We also request that you extend the public comment period 90 days to allow for stakeholder input. And above all else, we urge the Administration to maintain strong protections and clean water safeguards in Bristol Bay.
The EPA’s plan to reverse clean water safeguards is egregious and inconsistent with science and frankly, inconsistent with basic logic. Bristol Bay is an important economic driver in Washington, Oregon, California and throughout the west. Bristol Bay salmon fisheries support thousands of American jobs, many of which are held by residents of our states.
The proposed large-scale Pebble Mine, which would be located at the headwaters of the Bristol Bay watershed, threatens the entire Bristol Bay region, salmon, and the multi-billion dollar economy it supports. The Pebble Mine site would require the construction of a massive earthen dam used to contain toxic waste, including arsenic. In one mine plan scenario, the open mine pit would be so deep, you could fit two and a half Trump Towers inside. Due to the soil properties of the region, leaching of these toxic materials is considered unavoidable and would require constant extensive water treatment in perpetuity.
Each year, nearly 40 million sockeye salmon return to Bristol Bay, which is the largest sockeye fishery and one of the largest Chinook fisheries in the world. This unique and important region supports 35 species of fish including all five salmon species. That’s why the economies of Washington, Oregon and California have longstanding economic and cultural ties to the Bristol Bay region. A 2013 report by the University of Alaska Institute of Social and Economic Research found that the value of commercial fishing activities in the Bristol Bay region account for $1.5 billion in economic output value, including $500 million in direct income. Washington, Oregon and California benefit from $674 million in economic activity from Bristol Bay salmon fishing and processing each year. This economic activity fuels approximately 12,000 commercial fishing jobs and another 10,000 salmon-related industry jobs across the United States from Alaska to Maine. The region also supports a prolific outdoor recreation industry; anglers from around the world take roughly 37,000 fishing trips annually to Bristol Bay, generating $60 million in economic activity and supporting another 850 full and part time jobs.
After three years of in-depth scientific analysis and peer review, over one million public comments and eight public hearings, the EPA published Assessment of Potential Mining Impacts on Salmon Ecosystems of Bristol Bay, Alaska (EPA 910-R-14-001). The Assessment found that the Pebble Mine would have devastating and permanent negative impacts on Bristol Bay salmon. The Assessment found that between 24 and 94 miles of salmon producing streams and between 1,300 and 5,350 acres of pristine wetlands could be completely destroyed by the normal operations of the mine. This doesn’t factor in any potential mine failures, which could be catastrophic to the entire Bristol Bay ecosystem. Based on this assessment, the EPA recommended that common sense restrictions be put on the large scale mining development in Bristol Bay.
The Pebble Mine directly threatens our maritime economy and thousands of American jobs that rely on this world class fishery. We ask you to listen to America’s fishermen and businesses and reverse EPA’s decision to undo strong protections and clean water safeguards in Bristol Bay.