Today the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Inspector General (OIG) released the results of a 20-month-long investigation into whether the agency had properly conducted a watershed assessment in Bristol Bay.
The Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment was conducted in response to a petition from several Alaska Native tribes, who asked EPA to use the Clean Water Act Section 404(c) to provide protections for the Bristol Bay watershed.
The Inspector General’s conclusion – based on records it could obtain – was that there was no evidence of bias or wrong-doing on the EPA’s part. However, it did find that a former employee may have misused his position when using his personal email to comment on a draft of the Alaska Native tribes’ 404(c) petition before it was submitted to EPA. The OIG also reported that its review was limited because more than two years’ worth of personal and work emails were not made available from the former employee, who served as the technical lead on the Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment.
“Our report constitutes an independent determination as to whether the EPA adhered to laws, regulations, policies and procedures in developing its assessment of potential mining impacts on ecosystems in Bristol Bay,” said Inspector General Arthur A. Elkins.
Pebble Limited Partnership (PLP), which owns the Pebble mining prospect in Bristol Bay, had made repeated requests and complaints to the OIG as part of a multi-pronged offensive aimed at stopping EPA’s efforts to issue protections for the area. In May 2014 the OIG announced it would investigate whether the agency followed laws, regulations, policies and procedures when it developed the assessment. Today’s report represents the conclusion of that investigation. However, litigation brought by PLP over EPA’s conduct is still ongoing.