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Smith: EPA Employees Colluded with Pebble Mine Opponents

Apr 28, 2016
Press Release

Washington, D.C. – The Science, Space, and Technology Committee today held a hearing to review actions by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) to block the Pebble Mine from development before the project applied for any permits.

Documents obtained by the Committee and a recent deposition of former EPA employee Phil North make clear that the decision to undertake a pre-emptive action to limit the Pebble Mine was not based on sound science. Mr. North admitted under oath that he provided edits to an official petition letter from a third party sent to EPA Region 10 Administrator Dennis McLerran. The letter requested that the EPA stop the Pebble Mine before it applied for any permits. Testifying today, Administrator McLerran was questioned by Republicans about collusion and the lack of due process this case highlights.

Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas): “In the course of the Committee’s investigation, we discovered that EPA employees colluded with third party Pebble Mine opponents. While the EPA has been quick to minimize Mr. North’s role in the agency’s decision making process, his influence to promote the idea to stop the Pebble Mine is clear. Mr. North readily admitted to the Committee that he opposed the Pebble Mine and advocated among his colleagues that the agency use the Clean Water Act to stop it.

“We may never know the true extent to which  Mr. North and EPA employees worked with outside groups to establish a process to stop the Pebble Mine before it applied for a permit.  But we know enough to conclude that EPA employees violated ethical standards by giving outside groups unprecedented access to internal EPA deliberations, allowing for close collaboration on agency actions and strategy.

“If we allow the EPA to pursue this path of action, the agency will have set the precedent to tell states, local governments, and even private citizens how they can develop their land before a permit application has ever been filed. This is harmful to economic development and dangerous to the democratic process. Science and due process should lead the way, not pre-determined outcomes by activist EPA employees.”    

In response to a question by Chairman Smith, Administrator McLerran admitted that the Pebble Mine could not be granted a permit by the Army Corps of Engineers because EPA has already invoked the section 404(c) process. Meanwhile, Administrator McLerran and the EPA continue to publicly state that the project could apply for a permit at any time.  In response to other Committee Members, McLerran made clear his decision is final and there would be no revisiting their current position.

Today’s hearing follows a November, 2015 hearing to review a report released by the Cohen Group that raised questions about the fairness and biased nature of EPA’s use of the Clean Water Act with regard to the Pebble Mine. The Cohen report found that EPA employees may have had inappropriate contact with outside stakeholders opposed to Pebble Mine and arrived at a predetermined conclusion before any scientific evidence was gathered.

For more information about today’s hearing, including witness testimony and the hearing webcast, please visit the Science, Space, and Technology Committee website.

114th Congress