U.S. House Republicans – minus Don Young – needle EPA on Pebble mine decision

WASHINGTON — House Republican leaders are weighing in on the Environmental Protection Agency's latest efforts to restrict the proposed Pebble mine project in Alaska — and they aren't happy about it.

The chairmen of two committees, which oversee mining and the EPA, and the head of the Western Caucus wrote to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt this month to issue concern and condemnation over a surprise January announcement that left an Obama-era decision standing.

The letter came from Reps. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, chairman of the Committee on Science, Space and Technology; Rob Bishop, R-Utah, chairman of the Committee on Natural Resources, and Paul Gosar, R-Arizona, chairman of the congressional Western Caucus. But there was no signature from Alaska Rep. Don Young, though he is a top member of Bishop's committee.

A spokeswoman for Young did not answer questions about the letter or the congressman's position on the matter.

At the start of the year, Pruitt backed off a review of an Obama administration decision to restrict the potential scope of the proposed mining project. (The congressman did not issue a statement at the time of the EPA's change of heart in January.)

The Pebble Partnership wants to dig a massive deposit of gold, copper and molybdenum in and around the sensitive headwaters of Bristol Bay. Pebble says it can accomplish the feat without damaging the salmon fishery. The company recently applied for an Army Corps of Engineers permit for the project.

But the EPA, relying on a watershed assessment, issued a determination in 2014 that limited the scope of any potential mine project in the region.


In January, the Trump EPA said Pebble's permit application "must clear a high bar, because EPA believes the risk to Bristol Bay may be unacceptable."

That wasn't what the Republican congressmen were hoping to see, they wrote to the EPA administrator.

The agency's recent move "raise(s) serious concerns" about the EPA's commitment to "carry out its decisions based on due process and the rule of law," the congressmen wrote in the March 7 letter to Pruitt.

In February 2017, the House Science Committee recommended to the new Trump administration that it rescind EPA's pre-emptive "veto" of a permit in certain Bristol Bay watershed areas.

"While it was encouraging that EPA announced in July 2017 that the agency was considering a withdrawal, it is unfortunate that on January 26, 2018, EPA announced it was withdrawing its consideration of rescinding the 2014 proposed determination," the congressmen wrote.

They asked EPA to withdraw its "proposed determination" if the Army Corps concludes its environmental review and "addresses all of the major issues identified in the 2014 proposed determination."

Erica Martinson

Erica Martinson is a former reporter for the Anchorage Daily News based in Washington, D.C.