Subcommittee on Oversight discusses EPA Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment

Hearings took place yesterday in Washington, D.C., regarding the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment. Members of the Subcommittee on Oversight questioned witnesses about the agency’s assessment and the proposed Pebble mine. We’ve included some statements from committee members and witnesses and will follow up next week with additional details.

Chair of the Committee, Rep. Broun (R-GA) said that he has serious questions about how a mine can co-exist with fish in Bristol Bay, noting that, “If the Pebble mine will harm the fisheries and environment as some believe, it should not be allowed.” However, Broun also has reservations about EPA’s action in regard to potential Pebble mine. “We must allow due process under the law to find the facts. Laws and facts should drive the decision.”

Rep. Dan Maffei (D-NY) believes that EPA should complete its watershed assessment and promptly move to take up 404(c) in order to protect the Bristol Bay environment. “Even if the mining company can do what so far no mining company has ever done in a wet environment and dig a massive open pit mine that results in no leaks, no accidents, no pollution, who can guarantee that the massive amount of waste left behind in the tailings dam will not leach out or that the dam will not fail?”

Lowell Rothschild, senior counsel, Bracewell & Giuliani LLP, said that EPA is well within its authority to have undertaken the assessment. He provided testimony focused on the NEPA Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process as it relates to mining activity and how that process compares to assessments EPA undertakes under Clean Water Act Section 104(a) and (b), like the one for Bristol Bay. He noted that EPA’s watershed assessment is more general and more limited than an (EIS) would be and covers far fewer subjects than an EIS would. The assessment is not intended to be a substitute for an EIS. There are examples of avoidance, minimization and mitigation measures that would be addressed in an EIS that are not addressed in the watershed assessment. Full written testimony.

Michael Kavanaugh, senior principal, Geosyntec Consultants, and member, National Academy of Engineering – Kavanaugh’s company, Geosyntec, was retained by Northern Dynasty Minerals to conduct an independent technical review of EPA’s Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment. In their view, EPA’s report fails to properly consider modern mining methods and lacks credibility as a useful risk analysis. The 2013 assessment fails to meet scientific standards that would permit it to be used to inform future decisions on mining projects in the Bristol Bay watershed. Full written testimony.

Wayne Nastri, Co-president, E4 Strategic Solutions; Former Regional Administrator, USEPA Region 9 – Nastri testified personally that he found the conclusions of the EPA’s Bristol Bay watershed assessment to be sound and, if anything, conservative. He submitted an independent letter signed by 300 scientists who are supportive of EPA’s process. In his view, EPA needs to finalize its assessment and address the original request (from federally recognized tribes) for 404(c) action. At the very least, it should use its Clean Water Act authority to restrict any 404 discharge. Nastri noted that it is important for EPA to act soon in order to alleviate frustration and anxiety in Bristol Bay communities, as well as social impacts on youth and negative effects on other investment opportunities in the area. Full written testimony.

Daniel McGroarty, President, American Resources Policy Network – McGroarty’s group is dedicated informing the American public and American policy-makers of the importance of U.S. resource development. He believes the EPA’s assessment fails regarding the validity and impartiality of its source material, and that decisions about permitting the proposed Pebble mine should be left to the NEPA process. “We have a process in place to determine whether a mine should or shouldn’t be built. We should follow that process – to lead us to a policy based on science, and projects made better by the even-handed scrutiny they receive.” Full written testimony.

Learn more

This “hearing charter” gives some background on the topics addressed at the hearing.

Watch the archived proceedings.

Read this news report about the hearing.