The Pebble Mine Project: Process and Potential Impacts

2167 Rayburn House Office Building

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0 Wednesday, October 23, 2019 @ 10:00 | Contact: Justin Harclerode 202-225-9446
This is a hearing of the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment.

Official Transcript

Witness List:

Dennis McLerran, Esq., Cascadia Law Group | Written Testimony
Tom Collier, Chief Executive Officer, The Pebble Partnership | Written Testimony
Richard Borden, Owner, Midgard Environmental Services, LLC | Written Testimony
Alannah Hurley, Executive Director, United Tribes of Bristol Bay | Written Testimony
Brian Kraft, Owner, Alaska Sportsmen’s Lodge | Written Testimony
Mark Niver, Fisherman, Surrender Salmon Co. | Written Testimony
Anisa Costa, Chief Sustainability Officer, Tiffany & Co. | Written Testimony

Opening remarks, as prepared, of Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment Ranking Member Bruce Westerman (R-AR):

Thank you, Chairwoman Napolitano.

We have a significant amount of business before this subcommittee that is critical to the American taxpayer.  Today would be better spent discussing how to move forward the next Water Resources Development Act – a traditionally bipartisan effort to advance navigation, flood control, and ecosystem restoration projects critical to communities nationwide.  We could also be examining solutions to fix our aging water infrastructure and flood control strategies to prevent or lessen future flooding events that plague many of our communities.

But instead of focusing on any of these critical issues, the Subcommittee is focusing on a partisan priority currently under review at the federal agency level.  We are wading into a project and issue that is currently in the middle of a comprehensive review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

In 2014, EPA aggressively sought to expand its influence far beyond the original intent of the Clean Water Act and exercised what is known as its 404(c) “veto” authority by issuing a preliminary determination – which essentially blocked development of Pebble Mine. 

Historically, this authority has been used in rare circumstances, only having been employed 13 times.  But never had EPA issued a veto before a project permit application with detailed engineering, site plans, and environmental mitigation had been filed.

In doing so, EPA completely bypassed the established Clean Water Act and NEPA procedures specifically designed to evaluate potential projects, thereby denying the company a fair regulatory due process by foreclosing the opportunity for science to be objectively presented, reviewed, and assessed; trampling state authority; and stranding millions in capital expenditures by the company.

When unprecedented steps like this are taken, a chilling effect is sent around the country and the world for businesses wanting to invest in the United States, and it raises serious concerns about regulatory due process in our country.

I want to be clear – I understand the charged nature of this proposal and the potential for environmental disruption that can occur when mining operations are present, and I know stakeholders here today represent those concerns.

But again, I also believe in proper regulatory due process through a fair and objective federal environmental permitting process.  I believe in giving an applicant the opportunity to have the Corps of Engineers and the State of Alaska, along with a suite of other federal agencies, review this project objectively, on the merits of its permit application.

It wasn’t until 2017, three years after EPA’s preemptive judgment, when the Pebble Partnership filed a permit application, thereby kickstarting NEPA – the environmental review process deemed the gold standard by environmental activists and NGOs nationwide.

I will withhold judgments on the merits of the mine and stay out of the politics, but I will reaffirm that federal agencies should not be pre-determining outcomes, and that the review process currently taking place should be allowed to play out.

In the meantime, this Committee should get back to its business of addressing the infrastructure needs of this country.  I hope we can get back to real work on what usually are bipartisan issues for us.  We have made real headway in past Congresses, advancing three WRDAs in the past six years, and exploring ways to improve and accelerate our water resources development programs.

We could have focused today on a topic that would help inform our actions on those important issues, and help our constituents who sent us here to work together on real solutions.

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