EPA spends millions delaying Pebble Mine

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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The Environmental Protection Agency has spent millions assessing an Alaska mine that may be vetoed before any actual plans have been put forward or the permit process has begun.

In a Senate hearing on Tuesday, Ken Kopocis, President Obama’s nominee for assistant administrator for the EPA’s water office, said that the agency had spent $2.4 million in external costs on the controversial draft watershed assessment of the Pebble Mine.

This estimate does not include any internal agency costs.

“Mr. Kopocis, so on the issue of Pebble Mine, we’re also very very troubled by this preemptive watershed assessment which is completely unnecessary, not mandated by the law. How much money has EPA spent to date on this preemptive watershed assessment?” Louisiana Republican Sen. David Vitter asked in the hearing.

“Senator, my understanding is that the agency through earlier this year has spent approximately $2.4 million in external costs. I do not know of an estimate of internal cost to the agency,” Kopocis replied.

This is not the first time the agency has been criticized for the large sums of money spent on the assessment of the Pebble Mine. The Daily Caller News Foundation reported in April that the EPA had spent $169,381 sending 16 people, or $10,586 per person, to hold a peer review meeting on the watershed assessment — more than twice the cost per person of the lavish General Services Administration Las Vegas trip, which only cost $2,740 per person.

The Pebble Mine has become the focal point of a battle over the limits of EPA power. The EPA and environmental groups argue that the agency has the authority to preemptively veto a water pollution permit before the mine has even gone through the permitting process or has put forward any plans.

“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.”

Pro-mining groups and Republicans argue that this is an example of EPA overreach, saying that preemptively blocking Pebble Mine would be an unprecedented act.

The EPA has “used hypothetical mine scenarios, which is very concerning to us,”  Abraham Williams, president of the pro-development nonprofit Nuna Resources, told TheDCNF. “I think this is a tool that the opposition has been using and quite frankly I believe that there are some within the Environmental Protection Agency that like to use this watershed assessment as a tool to create fear or anxiety over the project as well.”

The agency’s second draft assessment of the Pebble Mine found that the project could impact the local salmon fishery and surrounding wetlands. However, the agency’s review did not evaluate any actual plans for the mine, since none have been put forward.

Critics attacked the EPA’s second review of the mine for using biased data and relying on research from consultants that had admitted to fabricating an environmental study in a multi-billion dollar lawsuit.

“[Environmental groups] are active in the Region,” Williams told TheDCNF. “They have people on the ground and they move around the communities very well. They are well funded. It’s amazing. They are like ants — they work everywhere.”

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