Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) urged the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to investigate contradictory information provided by Northern Dynasty Minerals to federal officials regarding the Canadian company's proposal to build the world's largest hard rock mine in Alaska's Bristol Bay watershed.
In a letter to SEC Chairman Elisse B. Walter, Cantwell referenced a report Northern Dynasty filed with the SEC in February 2011 that the company later referred to as a "fantasy proposal" during formal testimony to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in August 2012. The report, called the "Wardrop Report," was used by the EPA to inform its May 2012 Draft Watershed Assessment on the potential long-term environmental, economic and cultural impacts of a large-scale hard rock mine, like the proposed Pebble Mine.
The EPA is currently working to conduct a second public review of its Draft Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment. The final Watershed Assessment stands to play a critical role in the decision on whether to allow the proposed Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay to go forward. During the process, Cantwell has urged the EPA to consider the impact on Washington state's economy of a potential Bristol Bay mine -- and to consider using Clean Water Act authority to block the proposal if it would dramatically harm fishing jobs.
"Bristol Bay salmon support a multi-million dollar commercial fishing industry that includes thousands of Washington state jobs," Cantwell wrote in the letter sent today to the SEC. "In total, Bristol Bay produces roughly half of the world's wild sockeye salmon with a total value of over $480 million dollars, and supporting over 14,000 jobs.
"This contradictory use of the Wardrop Report is extremely concerning as it is unclear whether Northern Dynasty Minerals is misleading investors by attracting investment for a "fantasy proposal' or it is intentionally providing fraudulent testimony to the EPA. I urge you to investigate this matter immediately. Due to the importance of this issue to Washington state and the Pacific Northwest, I would greatly appreciate being informed about all developments on this matter."
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 in Bristol 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.
In addition to commercial fishery jobs, nearly all the major seafood corporations that process Bristol Bay catches are based in Washington, including Snopac Products, Peter Pan Seafoods, Ocean Beauty, Alaska General Seafoods, Icicle, North Pacific Seafoods, and Leader Creek.
"Commercial fishermen from across Washington are grateful for Senator Cantwell's leadership in protecting Bristol Bay's fishery and jobs in Washington state," said Ben Blakey, a third-generation commercial fisherman from Seattle. "For years, Washingtonians who hold permits in Bristol Bay have known that a very real mine plan exists in the form of Northern Dynasty Minerals' Wardrop Report, which has informed the EPA in its examination of potential mining scenarios in Bristol Bay. As Senator Cantwell's letter to the SEC clearly explains, Northern Dynasty is either misleading its investors or the EPA and the company must be held accountable for its inconsistencies."
Cantwell has been a leading proponent of protecting Bristol Bay from large-scale development that could harm its productive salmon run and the livelihoods that depend on salmon. On May 30, 2012, the day before a public hearing in Seattle on the issue, Cantwell joined Washington fishermen and businesses at Fisherman's Terminal in Seattle and urged the EPA to consider the impact on Washington state jobs as it determines whether to permit a mine in Bristol Bay. Earlier that month, Cantwell had asked EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to hold the Seattle hearing following the agency's release of its Draft Watershed Assessment on May 18.
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 EPA's Draft Watershed Assessment indicates that the proposed Bristol Bay Pebble Mine would harm salmon habitat. According to the 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 rock processing, 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.