House Oversight Committee requests investigations into Army Corps, EPA over Pebble Mine permitting

Published: Aug. 11, 2020 at 7:07 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The main investigative committee in the U.S. House of Representatives formally requested two investigations relating to the Pebble Project and the federal agencies responsible for permitting the project on Monday.

One letter called on Inspector General of the EPA General Sean O’Donnell to conduct a comprehensive review of the agency’s actions surrounding the withdrawal of a 2014 proposed determination that would have blocked the mining project. The letter requests the Inspector General to investigate “the influence of President Trump, other White House officials, and other non-EPA senior elected officials on the state and federal level over EPA’s actions regarding the Pebble Mine project and how political influence may have affected EPA decision-making,” and other concerns.

The other letter is addressed to O’Donnell and Inspector General of the United States Army, Leslie Smith. That letter requests that one or both of the offices review the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ conduct with regard to the Pebble Project from May of 2017 to the present.

The requests for investigation were welcomed by both the company looking to develop the mine and its opponents.

“My initial reaction was - finally. Finally, we feel like we’re being heard,” Executive Director of United Tribes of Bristol Bay Alannah Hurley said. “Our tribes have had a front-row seat and experienced first hand how terrible this process has been from the get go. So to see the U.S. House committee really pushing for an investigation to look into what exactly is happening in this process, to expose how it has not worked for our people, for Alaskan people, for anyone who depends on Bristol Bay, it was a big relief and we’re just so appreciative that the committee is taking this seriously.”

A spokesperson for the Pebble Partnership says it believes the EIS process the Army Corps has conducted will withstand any investigation.

“We’ve said quite often that the review that the Corps of Engineers did was thorough. It’s been transparent. If somebody wants to take a more detailed look, we say OK,” Pebble Partnership’s Mike Heatwole said. “I think it may actually help the public discussion about this because you know there’s been a lot of concerns expressed about whether the process was rushed. We’d argue that it hasn’t been -- it’s been almost three years in the making. Two and a half, three years, and if somebody else wants to take a look at it and validate that, absolutely. Our technical information is sound and we stand confidently upon it.”

The letters to the Inspectors General were signed by the oversight committee chairwoman Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D- New York), Subcommittee on Environment chairman Harley Rouda (D-California), and congresswoman Jackie Spier (D- California).

The earliest the Army Corps of Engineers can issue a Record of Decision on whether it will issue the permits the Pebble Partnership has applied for under the Clean Water Act and the Rivers and Harbors Act is late August, Heatwole says he doesn’t expect any decision to come for at least a few more weeks.

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