The federal Environmental Protection Agency is collecting public comments through the end of June on a proposed mining operation near Alaska’s salmon-rich Bristol Bay. In a pointed letter to President Obama, five West Coast senators expressed their concerns about the fishery resources and regional economic bounty threatened by the massive project.
The June 10 letter to the White House, copied to lots of administration officials, is signed by Washington Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley, and California Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer. The five Democrats cite a new report by the University of Alaska Institute of Social and Economic Research that not only describes Bristol Bay’s impact in Alaska, but also its economic clout in Washington, Oregon and California.
The senators want the White House to dispatch staff from the Council on Environmental Quality and the Department of Commerce to discuss the report. Yes, do take a close look at the numbers. Here is a link to a summary of the ISER findings.
The report found that commercial fishing activity in Bristol Bay generates $1.5 billion in economic activity for Alaskans. The report also found that Bristol Bay salmon fishing and processing is worth $674 million in Washington, Oregon and California. That translates into 12,000 seasonal jobs and an estimated 6,000 fulltime jobs in the three states.
“Water contamination and habitat loss from the construction and operation of a hard rock mine in Bristol Bay would put thousands of fishery-related family wage jobs at risk,” the lawmakers wrote Obama.
The proposed Pebble Mine creates environmental hazards that will exist for decades – centuries. Early analysis by the EPA has already raised doubts about the project. The timely expression of concern by the senators is welcome. A recent Seattle Times editorial also urges the protection of Bristol Bay.