Pebble Mine Settlement Worries Northwest Fishermen, Environmentalists

May 12, 2017

The Environmental Protection Agency has settled a lawsuit with Canadian-owned Pebble Limited Partnership over development of a copper and gold deposit in southwest Alaska.

Two years ago, the EPA proposed restrictions on the Pebble Mine in the Bristol Bay region. The settlement walks back that proposal, giving the company up to 30 months to apply for proper permits and limiting the agency from pursuing further restrictions for four years.

Bristol Bay is host to a world-class fishery and produces about half of the world's supply of wild sockeye salmon.

Many of the fishermen who work in those waters are based in the Puget Sound region. 

"It has a huge economic impact on the Pacific Northwest," said Pete Knutson, a longtime commercial fisherman in both Alaska and the Puget Sound.

Environmentalists say it's impossible to guarantee the safety of the salmon in Bristol Bay if there's a mine nearby. If something were to happen, Knutson says, the effect would ripple southward.

"This is not just about a feel-good environmental fight. This is really about an economic strata that's been in the Northwest, and it provides good-paying blue collar jobs," Knutson said.

A recent study by the King County Economic Development Council estimates that the maritime industry generates more than $17 billion in revenue each year in Washington and supports tens of thousands of jobs.

Washington Senator Maria Cantwell has also spoken out against the Pebble Mine. In a press conference Friday at Fisherman's Terminal, she called the settlement "an appalling mistake."