Cantwell asks Obama to limit mining in Bristol Bay

SEATTLE (AP) - U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell is asking President Barack Obama to take action to restrict or prohibit the development of large-scale mining in the Bristol Bay watershed.

In a letter sent Thursday, Cantwell asked the Obama administration to invoke a rarely used veto authority under the federal Clean Water Act to protect the region in southwest Alaska that is home to the world's largest sockeye salmon fishery.

The Democratic senator from Washington state wrote that the science shows Pebble Mine poses a direct threat to Bristol Bay salmon, maritime jobs and Alaska Native people. She also said thousands of jobs in Washington are tied to Bristol Bay salmon fishing.

Cantwell, dozens of fishermen and others rallied against the proposed Pebble Mine Thursday at Fishermen's Terminal in Seattle.

"That's why we're sending a letter today to President Obama asking him and his administration to follow the science and do everything possible to make sure that we protect these Northwest jobs," Cantwell said. "We want to do one thing, and that is save our fishing jobs."

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a report last week concluding that large-scale mining in the Bristol Bay watershed poses significant risks to salmon.

Pebble Limited Partnership spokesman Mike Heatwole said in an email Thursday that Cantwell's request "flies in the face of due process."

Heatwole also criticized the EPA document as "not conclusive science but rather a political report intended to harm our project's ability to apply for permits and receive an objective review under the environmental laws of our country."

Critics have expressed concerns that the EPA report could be used to pre-emptively veto the project and would set a bad precedent.

Under section 404c of the Clean Water Act, the EPA has the authority to restrict, prohibit, deny or withdraw use of an area as a disposal site for dredged or fill material if the discharge would have "unacceptable adverse" effects on things like municipal water supplies or fisheries, according to an EPA fact sheet. The agency says it has issued just over a dozen final veto actions since 1972.

Heatwole has said there is a process that exists for evaluating a project, and there is no environmental harm in allowing Pebble to follow that permitting process.

(Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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