A deposition with former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) employee Phillip North is being held up as proof of the agencies overreach when it proposed to block the Pebble Mine in 2014.
The Hill reported that House Republicans will argue that the agency’s evaluation of a proposed Alaska mine was botched.
The House Science Committee, chaired by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), is highlighting their deposition with North, a biologist formerly based in Alaska, to make their case about the EPA’s handling of the Pebble Mine.
In excerpts of the deposition provided to The Hill, North admitted that he had formed an opinion about the mine before he participated in the EPA’s biological assessment on which it based its findings.
“Would you say that you were an advocate within the EPA for the position that the agency should use Section 404(c) authority with regards to the Pebble project?” a Science Committee staffer asked North in the deposition earlier this month, referring to the process the EPA wanted to use to block the mine.
“Yes, I would say that’s fair,” North responded.
“At the time you formulated your opinion on the 404(c) action with regard to the Pebble deposit, had the EPA produced any scientific studies, reports or anything of that nature with regards to the Pebble deposit?” the staffer asked, to which North responded, “No.”
The Hill reported that North, who since left the state and is living in Australia, said he didn’t find anything inappropriate about his actions and that he simply felt it was his duty to inform others and that decisions were theres alone.
“The committee’s investigation has found that the Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment is a biased document prepared by the very EPA employees who internally advocated for an advanced 404(c) action for the Pebble Mine,” the panel said in a statement.
The GOP accused North of working improperly with environmentalists and Alaska Native tribes to get Pebble blocked.
The GOP has also accused North of fleeing the country to avoid being interviewed by lawmakers for the case, something he has denied.
EPA spokeswoman Melissa Harrison defended the agency and said there was nothing improper about how it dealt with Pebble
“We stand behind our study and our public process, and we are confident in our work to protect Bristol Bay,” she said. “We note that the Inspector General’s independent, in-depth review confirms that our rigorous scientific study of the Bristol Bay watershed and our robust public process were entirely consistent with our regulations, policies, and established procedures and were based on sound scientific analysis.”
The panel plans to release the full deposition transcript Thursday.