Congressmen weigh in on EPA watershed assessment

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been taken to task in Washington, D.C., during the last several months by U.S. senators who are critical of the agency’s decision to conduct a watershed assessment of Bristol Bay. Most recently, Sens. David Vitter (R-LA) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss), of the Environment and Public Works Committee, called for EPA to retract its draft watershed assessment and rely on the permitting process to determine if large-scale mining is acceptable in Bristol Bay.

According to an article by E & E News of Washington, D.C., Alaska Sen. Mark Begich has spoken in favor of the EPA being able to finalize the assessment, which the agency has said it will do by fall of this year. “I think EPA has to finish out their process, and we’ll see where it lies from there,” Begich is quoted as saying. “They started it. We should let the process finish, and then we’ll see where the information lies.”

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski falls in the camp that believes the watershed assessment to be “fundamentally flawed” due to its use of a hypothetical mine scenario to determine potential risks and impact of large-scale mine to the environment.

EPA has indicated that the final watershed assessment will inform a decision on whether to use its authority under the Clean Water Act to proceed with a 404(c) action. Known commonly as a “veto authority,” 404(c) is a process that could limit or prohibit development that would cause an adverse affect on the environment. Since 404(c) can be pursued before, during or after the permitting process for the proposed Pebble mine, critics have labeled this as a “pre-emptive veto” against the mine. Sens. Begich and Murkowski are both on record as stating that they would be against EPA using its 404(c) authority in this way.

EPA stated recently that it will release a second draft of the watershed assessment this spring for both peer review and public comment.

Read the entire E&E article (subscription only)

EPA Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment website

EPA 404(c) fact sheet

Letter from Sens. Vitter and Wicker to EPA