The Oversight Subcommittee yesterday held a hearing to examine potential overreach by the EPA in conducting a draft watershed assessment for the Bristol Bay area in Alaska based on a hypothetical mining scenario.
Last year, the EPA released the draft watershed assessment at the request of several Alaskan tribes and organizations concerned about the potential of mining activity in the region. The assessment, which by some estimates has cost taxpayers at least $2.4 million, was re-released earlier this year as a second draft. However, EPA has not finalized the assessment, nor has it specified the ultimate purpose of the document. One concern - not denied by EPA - is that the assessment may be the basis of a preemptive veto where the agency would prohibit a mining company from even applying for mine permits.
A longtime member of Trout Unlimited, an organization that opposes mining in Bristol Bay, Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Paul Broun (R-Ga.) emphasized that he is neither an advocate for nor against the development of Pebble mine.
Subcommittee Chairman Paul Broun (R-Ga.): "It is important to note that as of this point, no mining permits have been filed in Bristol Bay. That means that EPA's watershed assessment is based on hypothetical mining scenarios, and according to one mining supporter, "it's a fantasy for the government to say here's a mine plan.'
"A preemptive veto by EPA would set a dangerous precedent, and could have a chilling effect on similar projects throughout the nation. Investors would be wary of funding projects if they believed that a federal agency could just say no at any time to a company prior to permit applications. A prospective decision of such magnitude by the EPA should be based on the best possible science.
"I have serious questions about how a mine can coexist with the fish in Bristol Bay. But I have reservations about EPA's actions in regard to a potential Pebble mine. I cannot support actions by a federal agency that disregards laws that already exist that provide a level playing field for both industry and environmentalists alike. We must allow due process under the law to find the facts. Law and facts should drive the decision."
The following witnesses testified before the Subcommittee:
Mr. Lowell Rothschild, Senior Counsel, Bracewell & Giuliani LLP
Dr. Michael Kavanaugh, Senior Principal, Geosyntec Consultants, and Member, National Academy of Engineering
Mr. Wayne Nastri, Co-president, E4 Strategic Solutions; Former Regional Administrator, USEPA Region 9
Mr. Daniel McGroarty, President, American Resources Policy Network
For more information about today's hearing, including witness testimony, please visit the Science, Space, and Technology Committee website.