The Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight convened a hearing on EPA’s Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment entitled- A Factual Review of a Hypothetical Scenario. At the heart of the hearing was the concern over the EPA issuing a pre-emptive report designed to discourage any permitting application to exploit the mines vast natural resources. Chaired by Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.), the majority of witnesses, who expertise ranged from environmental law to engineers, agreed that the report prepared by the EPA was indeed deeply flawed.
L. Lowell Rothschild, Senior Counsel, Bracewell and Guiliani called the EPA’s assessment of Bristol Bay’s Pebble Mine “general” and “limited”. He also criticized the EPA for releasing such a report before an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) could be prepared. The initial EPA report in also profoundly unhelpful since “it is not an in-depth assessment of a specific mine but analyzes ‘scenarios that reflects the expected characteristics of mining operations at the pebble deposit.’”
Dr. Michael Kavanaugh, an expert in chemical and civil engineering, took the EPA to task for being premature in their initial report and quipped it was a “unique document.” The problems in the report that he discovered included: failure to consider modern mining practices, improper use of case histories of tailings dam failures, unreliable dam breach analysis, unreasonable pipeline release scenario, among others. While the EPA has always vowed to let science dictate its approach, Dr. Kavanaugh concluded the reports “limitations raise significant concerns on the scientific credibility of the 2013 BBWA and the appropriateness of using of using this document to inform stakeholders on the future of mining in the Bristol Bay watershed.”
Driving home the point was Daniel McGroarty, President of American Resources Policy Network, saying the report set a “bad precedent” with its use of 20 and 30 year old estimations.
While members of both parties agreed that it was important that the project be approached in an environmentally sound fashion, they were equally critical of the EPA for not allowing its own process to play out.