House Republicans threaten subpoena over EPA Alaska mine study

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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Republicans on the House Oversight Committee have sent a follow-up letter to the Environmental Protection Agency, demanding they provide more documents regarding the agency’s review of a potential mine in Alaska or face a subpoena to appear before the committee.

“It strains credibility that EPA has been unable to provide a full response to the Committee more than seven months after the initial request,” reads the letter to EPA Chief Administrator Lisa Jackson from California Republican Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the committee, and Ohio Republican Rep. Jim Jordan.

“If EPA fails to provide the documents as requested, the Committee will consider use of the compulsory process,” the letter continues.

The House Oversight Committee requested in May 2012 that the EPA provide documents regarding the agency’s decision on whether or not to use Section 4049(c) of the Clean Water Act to preemptively revoke a permit for a potential mining site in Bristol bay, Alaska.

However, after seven months the EPA has failed to provide a majority of the requested documents, according to the committee, even after disclosing last month that the number of documents it had compiled regarding the Alaska mining site was in the thousands. The committee has only received fewer than a thousand documents, according to the letter.

“The pace of EPA’s production appears to be an attempt to obstruct the Committee’s legitimate oversight of EPA’s actions regarding Bristol Bay,” the letter said.

In May, the EPA expressed concerns over the Pebble mine in Bristol Bay — which could be the largest copper and gold mine in the world — after the agency completed a draft watershed assessment on large-scale mining in the area. The assessment expressed concerns over the potential impacts of mining on local salmon habitats and the surrounding wetlands.

However, the draft watershed assessment did not evaluate any actual plans for Pebble mine, as none have been put forward, but instead evaluates a hypothetical mine which independent scientists expressed concerns over.

“Although interesting, the potential reality of the assessment is somewhat questionable,” said  Dr. William Stubblefield, one of the independent scientists who reviewed the assessment. “It is also unclear why EPA undertook this evaluation, given that a more realistic assessment could probably have been conducted once an actual mine was proposed and greater detail about operational parameters available.”

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

However, the EPA has never used this authority under the CWA to block a mining project before a plan has even been proposed. Republicans and industry representatives worry that If the EPA can block a project before any permits or plans are put forward, it would send many mining projects and jobs overseas.

“If we don’t exploit and develop what we have in the United States, which is considerable,” said Dan McGroarty, president of the nonpartisan American Resources Policy Network, “we are simply going to underscore our foreign dependence.”

“It’s going to have a very negative effect on the manufacturing process in the U.S. I couldn’t even estimate,” he added. “$200 billion of investment, I couldn’t even estimate how many jobs that would be. Honestly, is this going to be something we just accept because an agency defines its role in role in a different way?”

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