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Senate GOP wants justification of ‘pre-emptive veto'

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Two Republican senators say they want to know why the Environmental Protection Agency conducted a study serving as a practical "pre-emptive veto."

At issue is a gold mine in Alaska. The Pebble Partnership is seeking to mine gold, copper and molybdenum from the Bristol Bay region, one of the nation's richest sources of salmon. The bay is home to almost half of the world's sockeye salmon population.

Company executives and mining representatives have warned that the actions EPA have taken could be a model for other environmental actions, including here in Appalachia.

Sen. David Vitter, R-La., top Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee, and Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., wrote a letter asking the acting administrator of the EPA, Bob Perciasepe, to disclose the EPA's justification of preemptively vetoing the Pebble Mine Project.

"The EPA is making a power play to veto a job-creating mining project before the permit application has even been sent in," said Vitter. "As American entrepreneurs work to create jobs in this struggling economy, we see a politically charged, power-hungry administration picking winners and losers. I hope Mr. Perciasepe accepts his responsibility to hold EPA accountable and review the Congressionally authorized permitting process."

The EPA has conducted a study of potential mining in the area and its effect on the salmon population. The study, currently in draft status, could determine whether Pebble, or any company, is allowed to mine in the region.

The problem, industry groups and the GOP argue, is that Pebble has not yet submitted a mine plan.

"Despite this clear language, EPA has done precisely what Congress was trying to avoid by inventing a separate regulatory track complete with new and ever evolving hurdles designed to derail a project before it receives due process under the law," Vitter wrote. "However, this ad hoc process has no support in the statute."

Vitter said the process threatens jobs across the U.S.

Analyzing potential impacts without first looking at Pebble's plan, said Pebble spokesman Mike Heatwole, is reminiscent of the highly controversial retroactive veto of the Spruce Mine permit in West Virginia.

"If the EPA preemptively acts against the Pebble mine before we have a chance to apply for permit, it will have major regulatory consequences across the nation for any company involved in major construction projects, not just mining, seeking a 404c permit under the Clean Water Act," Heatwole said in an interview with The State Journal several months ago. "There are some 60,000 of these permits granted every year. However, our colleagues in the mining industry, especially coal miners, understand the danger better than most."

Pebble has argued that instead of a study commissioned prior to the permitting process, it should have the same opportunities as everyone else. The issue has divided lawmakers and other Alaskan citizens – particularly those dependent on the fish population in the Bristol Bay.

Background on the Pebble mine issue is available in this story by The State Journal.