The agency digs deep for excuses—and not very good ones—to explain its veto of an Alaskan mine project.
Government agencies have a certain descending order of excuses they employ as a scandal grows. When they reach the point of quibbling over semantics and blaming low-level employees, it’s clear they know they’ve got a problem.
The EPA has a problem: its pre-emptive veto of the Pebble Mine, a proposed project in southwest Alaska. The law says that Pebble gets to apply for permits, and the Army Corps of Engineers gets to give thumbs up or down. The EPA, a law unto itself, instead last year blocked the proposal before applications were even filed.
The agency claims it got involved because of petitions from Native American tribes in 2010, and that its veto is based on “science”—a watershed assessment that purportedly shows the mine would cause environmental harm.
This column reported a week ago on EPA documents that tell a very different story. They reveal the existence of an internal EPA “options paper” that make clear the agency opposed the mine on ideological grounds and had already decided to veto it in the spring of 2010—well before it did any “science.”
Emails showed an EPA biologist, Phil North, working in the same time frame with an outside green activist to gin up the petitions. It’s not much of a leap to suggest that the EPA encouraged the petitions so that it would have an excuse to intervene, run its science as cover, and block a project it already opposed.
None of this looks good, and in a nearby letter EPA Region 10 Administrator Dennis McLerran is already bringing up semantics. According to the EPA—and other environmental groups now picking up the same line—the agency didn’t “veto” the project, but simply put “restrictions” on it. Indeed. The “restrictions” are that Pebble can’t build its mine, or for that matter even a significantly smaller one. Veto, restrictions, it’s all the same thing. The EPA killed the project.
In a conversation with me last week, Mr. McLerran also turned to the “underlings did it” excuse. Asked about the options paper that shows the EPA’s early determination to veto the mine, Mr. McLerran told me: “I have never seen that options paper. None of the key decision makers have seen that options paper. It came out in this disclosure process.
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