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Congress to Investigate EPA’s Involvement with Pebble Mine

I hadn’t planned on addressing this issue again until after the election, but the proposed Pebble Mine is again in the news. Representative Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) is digging into the weeds on exactly how the EPA is involved in the proposed Pebble Mine as well as the efforts by environmentalists to shut it down. Issa, if you recall, led the investigations against President Obama’s handling of Solyndra.

What most interests me is perhaps getting a hold of that scientific review that we discussed in a previous post, one of the primary goals of Issa’s briefing.

Oversight Republicans in the House are pressing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) about a mine review in Alaska that they argue could spook energy investors nationwide.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and panel member Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) are demanding a briefing on EPA’s watershed impact tests for a proposed mine in Bristol Bay, Alaska, according to a letter obtained by The Hill.

The GOP lawmakers requested documents related to the tests in the letter, and set a deadline of Oct. 8 for the EPA to turn them over. They want a full transcript of a scientific review panel’s comments on an EPA draft report, as well as a transcript of a closed-door meeting between the panelists and agency officials.

“The unusually short amount of time in which EPA prepared the Assessment raises questions about whether EPA was more interested in reaching a predetermined conclusion than in conducting a scientifically valid review,” the lawmakers said in the letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson.

EPA has received the letter and is reviewing it, an official said.

You can read Issa’s letter in full here. It is demanding that the EPA provide this information within the next week or so, and we’ll be back to discuss whether the EPA chooses to comply, or if perhaps they will refuse and start a showdown between Issa’s committee, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and the Environmental Protection Agency. It would seem ludicrous to think that the EPA would be willing to pre-emptively veto the mine if indeed the scientists tasked with evaluating the watershed assessment found it riddled with errors, which seems to be the first impression. But the EPA this year has actively tried to extend its power, resulting in a number of smack downs by federal courts, so perhaps they still are considering it. Getting a hold of these documents might actually prevent the EPA from moving forward with a permitting veto, making it a fairly important exercise by Representative Issa.

While we’re discussing the mine, it’s worth noting that environmentalists are again up to no good (are you surprised?). Greenwire, a subscription based environmental news service, reported late last week that the two companies who hope to develop the Pebble Mine in the future, have hired the Keystone Center — a Colorado based non-profit — to publicly evaluate and discuss the research gathered by the Pebble Project. And it seems that the Keystone Center, an independent group, was created for precisely the task they have been given, to negotiate disputes between resource developers and enviromentalists:

Keystone, led by retired U.S. diplomat Gary Grappo, was founded in 1975 as a conflict-resolution organization focused on environmental laws and policies. It has mediated disputes, including those between conservation and agricultural interests over water, land and energy use.

The center became involved in the Pebble issue in 2007. Since then, it has tapped a science advisory board and developed a plan for moving forward with a discussion on the project.

So, we have a civil conversation among experts to discuss the feasibility of a mine co-existing with salmon in Alaska. What do environmentalists want? To shut the conversation down, of course:

Critics of the controversial Pebble LP gold and copper mine in southwestern Alaska are calling on a Colorado-based nonprofit group to stop scientific discussions on the project.

The Keystone Center is convening six days of discussions this month involving numerous scientists who are combing through 27,000 pages of the company’s research and other information. While the group has tried to paint itself as an independent broker, groups calling the mine an unacceptable project for the Bristol Bay area say Keystone’s efforts are not helpful.

“[T]he separate Keystone Center process is neither necessary nor productive and has the potential for misuse by the mine proponents that are funding it,” said a letter today from several groups, including Earthjustice, the National Wildlife Federation and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

It’s pretty bold to ask scientists to just stop talking about a project. Perhaps they are worried that they won’t like the outcome? These critics charge that the Keystone Center might be biased towards supporting the mine, because they are receiving funding by the Pebble Partnership for the review. The only problem with that charge, is that the experts reviewing the data are not receiving any money from the Keystone Center, so the people who are actually taking a look at the data and discussing it aren’t being paid, giving them no reason to be biased.

While the fate of the proposed Pebble Mine still remains murky, it is clear that environmentalists are willing to do whatever it takes to frighten the public into opposing natural resource development. Let’s hope they aren’t successful in the long run.

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