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

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Michael Bastasch Contributor
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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.

Alaska’s Attorney General Michael Geraghty also challenged the EPA’s legal basis for preemptively vetoing the mine.

“Until an application is filed describing a potential project, EPA will be speculating and prematurely ‘determining’ unavoidable adverse impacts based on hypotheticals and inapplicable modeling, rather than waiting to evaluate real information on specific proposals, as Congress clearly intended,” Geraghty wrote in a letter to the EPA.

“This approach completely ignored modern mining practices, used technologies that have been outdated for more than a century, and borrowed shoddy construction standards from failed mines in other countries like Romania,” wrote John MacKinnon, executive director of the Associated General Contractors of Alaska. “In other words, in order to conclude that mining activity would harm the environment, the EPA presented a mine that was guaranteed to harm the environment.”

“The EPA has the authority under the Clean Water Act to stop Pebble Mine,” wrote Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, adding that the EPA’s study “provides more than enough information to find with absolute certainty that large-scale mining in the Bristol Bay watershed would pose enormous, irreversible harm to the watershed’s natural resources — and the people and wildlife that depend on those resources.”

Celebrity activist Robert Redford has also gotten involved in the fight to stop Pebble Mine and is spearheading the NRDC’s effort to stop the mine from being approved.

However, the EPA’s actions regarding the Alaska mine could have a “chilling effect” on $220 billion in investments, according to the Brattle Group — an economic and financial consulting firm.

“It has a chilling effect over all these kinds of investments. Everybody in every project knows that there’s a process, and it’s a challenge, a serious one, to comply with that process,” said Dan McGroarty, president of the nonpartisan American Resources Policy Network. “It’s going to have a very negative effect on the manufacturing process in the U.S.”

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