Shutdown tensions seep into mining hearing

House Democrats on Thursday blasted Republicans for the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) absence during a hearing called by the GOP to review the agency's "questionable" actions against American mining jobs.

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The Energy and Mineral Resources hearing — which was held to examine the EPA's watershed assessment of the proposed gold and copper mine in Alaska's Bristol Bay and the federal raid of gold miners in Chicken, Alaska — quickly became embroiled in government politics. 

"It is unfortunate that the EPA can't be here today to tell their side of the story," Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) said. "I think it's even more unfortunate that it is because of this GOP-led shutdown."

In the wake of the government shutdown, the EPA furloughed roughly 94 percent of its staff and halted mining permits. 

Cutting off Holt, Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) said, "Oh, let's just get on with the hearing and stop playing politics." 

Defending his Democratic colleague, Rep. Peter Defazio (D-Ore.) questioned the jurisdiction of the subcommittee on the EPA raid in the community of Chicken. 

"Their actions were upheld by a D.C. circuit court and we are having a pretend hearing on something we can't do anything about," Defazio said.

"What we should be worried about are the real economic impacts occurring because of this Republican war on government."

In late August, armed agents from the Alaska Environmental Crimes Task Force in groups of four to eight swarmed the gold mine in Chicken, according to reports. They were investigating an alleged violation of the Clean Water Act. 

Prior hearings have been held on the proposed Pebble LP copper mine in Bristol Bay, Alaska, which opponents say would destroy the $1.5 billion salmon industry in the bay. It would be the largest open-pit mine in North America if approved.

House Republicans have been critical of the EPA assessment of the Pebble mine, claiming it sidestepped the conventional permitting process.



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