Washington, D.C. – House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) today sent a letter to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy questioning statements made by EPA’s Region 10 Administrator Dennis McLerran whose office played the lead role in proposing the use of Section 404 of the Clean Water Act to block development of the Pebble Mine in Alaska. The letter questions EPA’s apparent pre-determined conclusion to block the Pebble Mine before any science-based reports were produced or any formal permit applications were submitted.

A recent report by former Secretary of Defense William Cohen raises serious concerns about the fairness of EPA’s decision-making process. The Cohen report suggests that Administrator McLerran was presented with an options paper outlining various steps EPA should take to halt the mine. The report found that the options paper was inappropriately influenced by outside groups opposed to the Pebble Mine and made conclusions without the backing of sound science.

Administrator McLerran has disputed that he reviewed the options paper.  However, documents obtained by the Science Committee contravene McLerran’s statements, and instead suggest that he was provided the options paper and was even the chair of a briefing about the document on July 8, 2010.

Chairman Smith: “A preemptive veto of the Pebble Mine before the EPA has all the facts sets a dangerous precedent. No mining permits have been filed, so any assessment by the EPA is only based on hypothetical mining scenarios. And Administrator McLerran’s recent statements only raise additional questions. The EPA should base its decisions on the best available science, not a pre-determined agenda. The Science Committee will hold a hearing on November 5th to hear directly from Sec. Cohen on his findings.”

The options paper in question was prepared by now-retired EPA scientist Phil North, who vehemently opposed development of Pebble Mine.  Mr. North appears to have prepared the options paper with input from Jeff Parker, an attorney representing groups opposed to the Pebble Mine.  A federal judge in Alaska issued a subpoena in August to compel Mr. North to testify in a case brought by the Pebble Limited Partnership against the EPA. Mr. North, believed to currently reside in Australia, has thus far failed to return to the U.S. or abide by the court’s order.

In order for the Committee to better understand the process that EPA followed in blocking development of the Pebble Mine, Smith’s letter requests that EPA make Administrator McLerran available for a transcribed interview by Committee staff prior to the November 5 hearing.

The full letter is available here.