Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Proposed Senate Bill Would Stop EPA Veto of Mine Permits

Legislation introduced in late March in the US Senate would limit the Environmental Protection Agency’s role in reviewing Clean Water Act permits.

The Regulatory Fairness Act of 2014, sponsored by Sen. David Vitter, R-LA, and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.VA, was introduced in the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. It would specifically prohibit the EPA from preemptive or retroactively vetoing a permit under Section 404 of the act.

The legislation would also prevent the EPA from vetoing Clean Water Act permits related to development of the Pebble mine, one of the largest open pit mines on Earth, near the headwaters of the Bristol Bay watershed in Southwest Alaska.

Vitter, who has announced plans to run for governor of Louisiana in 2015, said the legislation “would give American businesses a fair shot at going through the process of building or mining without having to worry about politics getting in the way.” Vitter, the leading Republican on the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee, previously teamed up with Manchin, an ardent promoter of West Virginia’s coal industry, in opposition to an EPA decision to revoke a Clean Water Act section 404 permit previously issued by the US Army Corps of Engineers to the Mingo Logan Coal Co. in West Virginia. That permit would have authorized Mingo Logan to discharge dredged and/or fill material into federal waters.

The introduction of the Regulatory Fairness Act drew immediate criticism from the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, which represents the 1,850 commercial salmon driftnet fishermen who harvest sockeye salmon in Bristol Bay.

“This attempt to re-write the Clean Water Act would extend the uncertainty which has hung over our fishery since the proposed Pebble mine came on the scene a decade ago, said Katherine Carscallen, sustainability director for the BBRSDA. “If the senators truly care about American jobs, they should start by listening to Bristol Bay and standing up for the 14,000 sustainable jobs it provides.”

According to an economic report produced last May by the University of Alaska’s Institute for Social and Economic Research, the Bristol Bay salmon industry supports a significant number of jobs in Alaska, Washington, Oregon and California, with the total value of Bristol bay salmon product exports in 2010 alone worth about $370 million. The full report is online at

Backers of the massive copper, gold and molybdenum Pebble mine maintain that the mine can be constructed and operated in harmony with the world-renowned commercial salmon fishery. The fishery is also critical to the sport angler industry, thousands of subsistence harvesters and an abundance of wildlife in the region.

Opponents of the mine contend that the mine has great potential to adversely effect critical habitat for spawning and return of the salmon to natal streams.

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