Senators likely to hit EPA nominee over ‘expensive powerplay’ with Pebble Mine

President Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency nominee Gina McCarthy will finally get her confirmation hearing this week, where she will likely face questions regarding the agency’s actions on the Pebble Mine in Alaska.

The agency has been criticized for spending an a substantial amount of taxpayer dollars holding meetings regarding environmental assessments for the Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay, Alaska, as well as exceeding its authority by arguing it can veto the mine before any plans have been proposed.

The EPA spent $169,381 sending sixteen people — at $10,586 per person — to hold a peer review meeting on the environmental assessment to give the public a chance to comment on the mine’s draft assessment. This is more than twice the cost per person of the lavish General Services Administration Las Vegas trip, which only cost $2,740 per person.

“The EPA has been making a very expensive power play to veto a job-creating mining project before they’ve even received a permit application,” Louisiana Republican Sen. David Vitter told The Daily Caller News Foundation in an email. “In an effort to kill the Pebble Mine project, the EPA recently spent hundreds of thousands of taxpayer-provided dollars sending 16 bureaucrats to Alaska to preemptively eliminate over 2,000 jobs projected for mine construction and 1,000 mining jobs.”

Vitter, who is the ranking member on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, has called into question the EPA’s claim that they possess the authority to preemptively veto the Pebble Mine.

House Republicans have also questioned the EPA on the amount of taxpayer dollars spent on the Pebble Mine assessment.

“During these trying fiscal times, the EPA is spending an undisclosed sum of money on a report that is needlessly based on a hypothetical mine scenario,” Georgia Republican Rep. Paul Broun wrote in a letter to the agency. “Unfortunately, it appears as though EPA is happy to continue spending scarce resources on an assessment of questionable value, all in order to create additional, unnecessary, and duplicative regulatory burdens.”

“EPA’s assertion of pre-emptive veto power appears to undermine the permitting process as outlined by Congress when it passed the [Clean Water Act],” California Republican Rep. Darrell Issa wrote in letter.

Opponents of the mine want the EPA to use its authority under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act to preemptively veto the mine before any actual plans have been laid out — an unprecedented move.

The Clean Water Act requires operations that dump “dredge or fill materials” into wetlands, rivers, lakes, or streams to obtain a Section 404 permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The EPA has the authority revoke this permit if there are “unacceptable adverse impacts on municipal water supplies, shellfish beds and fishery areas, wildlife, or recreational areas.”

The EPA released its assessment of Pebble Mine, which could be one of the largest copper and gold mines in the world, last May and expressed concerns over the mine’s impact on salmon habitats and surrounding wetlands.

However, the Pebble Mine assessment did not evaluate any actual plans the mine, but instead evaluates a hypothetical mine. If the mine is vetoed, the EPA would be striking down a mine before any actual plans were proposed — an unprecedented move.