The Inspector General’s office of the Environmental Protection Agency says no evidence of bias has been found in how the EPA conducted its assessment of the Bristol Bay watershed, or that the EPA predetermined the assessment outcome.
In a lengthy report released Jan. 13, the Inspector General’s office, an independent entity within the EPA, also found that the EPA’s assessment appropriately included sections on the three primary phases discussed in the agency’s ecological risk assessment guidelines.
Further, the Inspector General’s office said, the EPA met requirements for peer review, provided for public involvement throughout the peer review process, and followed procedures for reviewing and verifying the quality of information in the assessment before releasing it to the public.
The length report did find that an EPA Region 10 employee used personal nongovernmental email to provide comments on a draft Clean Water Act Section 404 (c) petition from tribes before the tribes submitted it to the EPA, and that this action was a possible misuse of position, and the EPA’s senior counsel for ethics agreed. Agency employees must remain impartial in dealings with outside parties, particularly those that are considering petitioning or have petitioned the agency to take action on a matter, and this employee retired from the EPA in April 2013, the report said.
The Inspector Generals office reviewed the Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment based on congressional inquiries and hotline complaints regarding allegations of bias in the assessment process.
The assessment was initiated by the EPA in response to requests from federally recognized tribal governments within the Bristol Bay watershed in Southwest Alaska, an area that also contains large amounts of copper and gold. The EPA conducted the watershed assessment from February 2011 through January 2014 to determine the significance of Bristol Bay’s ecological resources and evaluate the potential impacts of large-scale mining on those resources.
The assessment was challenged by the Pebble Limited Partnership, a subsidiary of a major Canadian mining firm, seeking to mine the mineral resources with a massive mining operation bordering on the Bristol Bay watershed, which is home to the world’s largest run of wild sockeye salmon.
EPA Region 10 administrator Dennis McLerran said the Inspector General’s independent review confirms that EPA’s rigorous scientific study of the Bristol Bay watershed and robust public process were within the law and based on sound scientific analysis.
McLerran noted that while Pebble has said repeatedly that it would file a permit application for the mine, it has not yet chosen to do so.