Congressional Republicans To Hammer EPA Over Pebble Mine

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The head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) office in Alaska will face Congress Thursday over allegations the agency colluded with locals tribes to purposely block a planned mine project.

EPA’s head administrator Dennis McLerran will testify in front of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee Thursday.

The proposed Pebble Mine in Alaska’s Bristol Bay reportedly would have been a prosperous project for both developers and the local economy were it not shuttered by an EPA report showing it would harm the ecology of the state’s salmon population.

McLerran represents areas of Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Alaska.

Thursday’s hearing will be the second on the Pebble Mine issue for the EPA. The first happened in November and resulted in Republican congressmen criticizing the EPA over its supposed “predetermined plans” to block the mine.

The GOP believes the EPA colluded with Alaskan tribes to torpedo the mine project.

U.S. District Judge Russel Holland decided in March that the EPA withheld large sections of documents mine developers asked for in conjunction with the mine. Holland wrote at the time that he had “no confidence” in EPA’s competency on document filing.

EPA ecologist Phillip North, reports show, allegedly worked hand in hand with local tribes to stymie the project. North used his personal email to consult the tribes on how to block the plan, according to a report from the Inspector General’s office.

North edited and altered a petition under an aspect of the Clean Water Act through his private email account in 2010, which allowed the tribes to veto the plan.

He left for Australia to avoid investigation.

“When reviewing the draft petition, it was not clear whether [North] participated in a personal or official capacity,” the report noted. “It was also not clear whether commenting on the draft petition using personal email was allowable under the job duties of [North].”

The EPA denies it blocked the mine — instead, the agency maintains the Pebble Mine is still being reviewed. Regulators suggested in 2014 that it could use a preemptive veto tabling the mine.

Republicans lambasted the entire situation.

The committee’s Republican chairman, Texas Rep. [crscore]Lamar Smith[/crscore] lambasted the Inspector General for failing to produce North’s hidden emails.

“If we allow the EPA to pursue this path of action the agency will have the power to tell states, local government, and even private citizens how they can develop their land before a permit application has ever been filed. This is unprecedented and dangerous,” he said in November.

A study conducted in 2013 by Alaskan economist Scott Goldsmith, and paid for by the First National Bank of Alaska, showed that the mine, were it developed, would contribute to the overall Alaskan economy.

“A recent study indicates that the Pebble mining prospect in southwest Alaska could, if developed, could make a significant contribution to the Alaskan economy, given its measured and indicated resources 55 billion pounds of copper … and 67 million pounds of gold,” Goldsmith wrote at the time of the study.

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