House committee to probe EPA’s decision to block Pebble Mine

October 15, 2015

A report from former U.S. defense secretary William Cohen found that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) appears to have rushed to judgement when it preemptively block the proposed Pebble gold and copper mine from being built near Alaska’s Bristol Bay.

In response to that report, a U.S. House committee will look into the matter.

The Hill reported that in a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) asked the agency to make a regional coordinator available for an interview before a Nov. 5 hearing.

The report from Cohen accused the EPA of giving special treatment to groups that wanted to stop the mine and the report also said EPA Region 10 Administrator Dennis McLerran considered a report about steps the agency could take to block the mine before any scientific research on the project took place.

McLerran has said he didn’t see any research suggesting the agency decline the project early.

“I have never seen that options paper,” he told The Wall Street Journal in May. “None of the key decision makers have seen that options paper. It came out in this disclosure process. It is a preliminary document, done by lower level staff.”

But in his letter, Smith said the new report “[raises] questions about the fairness of the process EPA undertook in its decision to invoke the section 404(c) process for the Pebble Mine,” referring to the permit needed for the project.

He asked the EPA to make McLerran available for an interview before his committee’s hearing. Cohen, who was former President Bill Clinton's secretary of Defense, is scheduled to testify at the hearing.

The EPA denied a permit for the Pebble Mine last year, arguing it would hurt local waterways and wildlife. The agency has defended its decision, saying it conducted three years of scientific evaluations and public hearings on the matter before coming to a decision.

Republicans argue the EPA erred in blocking the project before the company behind it had even applied for the permit.

“A preemptive veto of the Pebble Mine before the EPA has all the facts sets a dangerous precedent,” Smith said in a statement.

“The fairest and most appropriate process to evaluate possible development in the Pebble Deposit Area would use the established regulatory … process to assess a mine permit application, rather than using an assessment based upon the hypothetical mining scenarios,” the report stated.

EPA spokeswoman Liz Purchia defended the agency’s decision, saying EPA officials had ample information about the proposed gold mine and its possible environmental impacts, and followed an intensive review process.

“No process could have been more transparent and inclusive of all views, including for proponents of the Pebble Mine,” Purchia said.



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