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Originally published September 25, 2012 at 4:40 PM | Page modified September 25, 2012 at 4:40 PM

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Op-ed: Proposed Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay threatens Seattle’s salmon industry

Unless the Environmental Protection Agency takes action to protect Alaska’s Bristol Bay from a mega-mine proposed by foreign mining interests, our salmon jobs and businesses in Seattle could be lost, according to guest columnists Mark Liffmann and Michael Brian Orr.

Special to The Times

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AFTER a magnificent summer in Seattle, one cannot help but marvel at the incredible place we live. Sadly, our salmon catch, an integral part of our economy and culture, is under significant threat.

Unless the Environmental Protection Agency takes action to protect Alaska’s Bristol Bay from a mega-mine proposed by foreign mining interests, our salmon jobs and businesses in Seattle could be lost.

Salmon are as much a part of our Northwest culture as our towering forests or our world-class companies like Microsoft, Boeing and Amazon. We wait anxiously for the first fresh salmon of spring. We know each and every salmon river from the Columbia to Bristol Bay. The wild salmon from Bristol Bay, our nation’s iconic salmon hub, support thousands of local jobs and businesses in and around Seattle.

The Pebble Mine proposed in southwestern Alaska is slated to become one of the largest gold, copper and molybdenum mines in the world. It would produce more than 10 billion tons of mining waste laced with toxins that threatens to decimate the half-billion dollar Bristol Bay salmon industry. The mine would eliminate or block nearly 87 miles of salmon streams, destroy up to 4,286 acres of wetlands, and threaten to contaminate the ground and surface waters throughout the Bristol Bay watershed.

The Pebble Mine threatens so much destruction in the Bristol Bay ecosystems that more than 60 jewelers representing more than $6 billion in annual sales, including Tiffany & Co., will boycott gold produced from the Pebble Mine if it ever opens.

Bristol Bay is home to the world’s largest wild salmon fishery, supporting tens of millions of returning wild salmon each year and 14,000 fishing and tourism jobs. Commercial and sport fishing play an integral role in the Pacific Northwest economy. Roughly 1,000 people from Washington hold commercial fishing permits in Bristol Bay and, in turn, support thousands more fishery and cannery jobs — jobs and renewable natural resources that would be lost if the mine progresses. That’s why the mine is opposed by a broad coalition of diverse interests, including fishing and related businesses in Alaska and in the lower 48 states, particularly in Washington.

Sen. Maria Cantwell showed great leadership when she became the first U.S. senator to call on the EPA to use its veto power if the threat to Bristol Bay’s economy is confirmed. It was confirmed by the agency’s Watershed Assessment in May. As expressed by Cantwell, “We need to do everything we can to protect the commercial, subsistence, and recreational fishermen who rely on this sustainable fishery.”

The EPA’s Watershed Assessment provides more than enough information to conclude with absolute certainty that large-scale mining in the Bristol Bay watershed would pose enormous harm to the watershed. These findings are even more notable given the fact that the EPA’s analysis, by its own admission, underestimates the overall risks.

We must do everything we can to protect this resource. Industrializing the headwaters of the Bristol Bay fishery may enrich foreign mining interests in the short term, but could impose lasting economic harm on Alaska and Washington.

Relying on the findings of its Watershed Assessment, the EPA should use its legal authority to put an end to this ill-conceived mining scheme and protect Pacific Northwest jobs, businesses and natural resources.

Mark Liffmann, left, and Michael Brian Orr are Seattle business executives and co-directors of Environmental Entrepreneurs, Pacific Northwest Chapter, which supports environmental policy that builds economic prosperity (www.e2.org).

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