Issa subpoenas EPA on Alaska mine rejection

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrel Issa (R-Calif.) subpoenaed the head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for documents related to its rejection of a permit for an Alaska mine.

In a Friday statement, the committee called EPA’s decision to reject the mining permit for the Pebble project near Bristol Bay “unprecedented and controversial.” EPA said in February that it would veto the permit under the Clean Water Act due to its concerns over the project’s impact to waterways and Bristol Bay’s salmon population.

“Extensive scientific study has given us ample reason to believe that the Pebble Mine would likely have significant and irreversible negative impacts on the Bristol Bay watershed and its abundant salmon fisheries,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said in a Feb. 28 statement.

An investigation by Issa’s committee shows that EPA had considered blocking the project as early as January 2010, almost a year before it began its formal assessment. EPA has only blocked such projects 12 times since 1981, and officials feared political backlash and litigation risk, the Oversight Committee said.

Issa is demanding all documents and communications related to the Pebble mine assessment, the committee said.

The subpoena came a week after Issa asked EPA’s Inspector General to review the agency’s decision.

EPA spokeswoman Alisha Johnson defended the agency’s veto, saying it did not decide to veto the project until it completed a scientific assessment.

“The EPA takes congressional oversight requests very seriously,” Johnson said. “With regard to requests related to Bristol Bay, the EPA has already made more than 20 productions to congressional committees. Through those productions we have provided Congress with thousands of documents totaling over 50,000 pages of material.”

EPA also used its Clean Water Act veto power in 2011 to block a mine in West Virginia after the Army Corps of Engineers granted a permit. The Supreme Court refused Monday to hear the mining company’s appeal in the case.