EPA Still Micro-Managing Pebble Mine


Though former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has left the Environmental Protection Agency, not much has changed with regards to the agencies attitude towards natural resource projects. This week, Senator Vitter (R-LA), blasted Acting EPA Administrator Bob Perciasepe, over the agencies ongoing attempt to control the fate of the proposed Pebble Mine in Alaska:

We write to express our concern for actions taken by the Enviornmental Protection Agency (EPA) pursuant to authority the agency claims to have under the Clean Water Act (CWA). Specifically, we are deeply troubled by EPA’s unreasonable claim that it has “preemptive veto authority” over the Pebble Mine Project before the sponsor has the opportunity to apply to the Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) for a CWA permit. Such an interpretation is unreasonable and contrary to both the plain text of the CWA and its legislative history. Moreover, in EPA’s attempt to rewrite the CWA and grant itself “preemptive veto authority,” EPA has resorted to improvising a new system by using its general research authority under Section 104(a) of the Act to conduct a watershed assessment of Bristol Bay. This assessment has suffered from intense criticism, being described as “hogwash” by one of EPA’s own peer reviewers namely because of the highly creative fictional mine study. Accordingly, we call on you to disavow this unjustified power grab and instead allow the permitting process designed by Congress to move forward.

There’s a lot crammed into that first paragraph, but Vitter (the Ranking Member on the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works) has called on Perciasepe to end the EPA’s involvement with the Pebble Mine until the Army Corps of Engineers has received a permit request under the Clean Water Act. This would, in Vitter’s eyes, be more in line with how Clean Water Act permitting has been viewed historically, rather than the EPA’s attempt to expand its authority and scope (which hasn’t worked out well in recent years). Unfortunately, even if EPA’s actions here were eventually struck down by a court, this process could easily take years and cost the U.S. economy billions of dollars.

Vitter also has some excellent snark-loaded questions for Perciasepe:

3. Does EPA believe that environmental damage will accrue to the Bristol Bay Watershed simply by allowing the sponsors of the project to apply to the Corps for a 404 permit?

a. If so, please explain the environmental impact that the EPA anticipates will accrue to the Bristol Bay Watershed between the time that the EPA conducts its watershed assessment and the time that the sponsors of the Pebble Mine would otherwise submit their application to the Corps for review.

If it isn’t clear, Vitter is asking the EPA if they foresee any damage being done to Bristol Bay (by the proposed mining activities) before any work was even done to begin mining. The answer, of course, is no. He wants the EPA to be forced to acknowledge this, however, so he can again call attention to the fact that the EPA shouldn’t be involved with this at all until the mine sponsors have applied for a permitting, when the EPA has historically been allowed to assess the situation.

We will keep you updated if the EPA decides to respond.

In other Pebble News, former Alaska Senator (1980-2002),  Governor (2002-2006), and father to current Alaskan Senator Lisa Murkowski has penned an open letter to President Obama, concerning the proposed Pebble Mine. Here’s a bit of it:

I know that you agree that it is vital to create jobs in rural, minority areas based upon responsible resource development that does not impose unreasonable costs or risks to others, environmental or otherwise. Most would agree that we should not in any way trade the tremendous fishery resource of Bristol Bay for copper and gold. Both of these must be objectives of the Pebble mine in southwest Alaska.

I am, however, indignant that EPA has sought to preempt the congressional authorized permitting process and move ahead and conduct a watershed assessment that evaluates the impacts of a “theoretical” Pebble mine — created by EPA personnel alone using outdated and false assumptions. In its widely panned draft of the watershed assessment, EPA concluded that there would be adverse impacts from such a mine on the Nushagak and Kvichak watersheds.

These watersheds cover 15 million acres of state land in western Alaska. For perspective, this represents an area the size of West Virginia and constitutes nearly 15 percent of the land Alaska received under the Statehood Act.

By its draft assessment, EPA has already gone a long way towards pre-judging the area’s suitability for development under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act before receiving an actual permit application based upon an actual project description. In order to give any meaning to EPA law, it is imperative that instead of using a hypothetical mine as its decision basis without any input from the applicant, assessment should wait until there is an application for a CWA permit. This would trigger a National Environmental Policy Act review, which is the appropriate vehicle to use to evaluate the costs and risks of an actual project.

Because EPA’s action is unprecedented and not supported by the CWA for reasons given in the Alaska attorney general’s letters of March 9, 2012 and July 23, 2012, neither the state nor potential mine operators have any idea of how it will be used in the future. Not only does EPA’s watershed assessment preempt the permitting process, thereby affecting the potential Pebble project on state land, but it could also adversely impact any number of other potential mines on land included in the assessment area.

An excellent letter. While this issue is about the Pebble Mine project, it is also about mining and resource development in general. If the EPA steps out of line and preemptively attempt to veto the mine, it will act as a chilling precedent for other natural resource projects, demonstrating that the EPA has the authority to shut down your natural resource project if its deemed unworthy by environmental radicals, who hate all types of natural resource development.

Read his entire letter here.



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