Proposed Senate Bill Would Stop EPA Veto of Mine Permits

Legislation introduced in late March in the US Senate would
limit the Environmental Protection Agency’s role in reviewing Clean Water Act
The Regulatory Fairness Act of 2014, sponsored by Sen. David
Vitter, R-LA, and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.VA, was introduced in the Senate
Committee on Environment and Public Works. It would specifically prohibit the
EPA from preemptive or retroactively vetoing a permit under Section 404 of the act.
The legislation would also prevent the EPA from vetoing
Clean Water Act permits related to development of the Pebble mine, one of the
largest open pit mines on Earth, near the headwaters of the Bristol Bay
watershed in Southwest Alaska.
Vitter, who has announced plans to run for governor of
Louisiana in 2015, said the legislation “would give American businesses a fair
shot at going through the process of building or mining without having to worry
about politics getting in the way.” Vitter, the leading Republican on the
Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee, previously teamed up with
Manchin, an ardent promoter of West Virginia’s coal industry, in opposition to
an EPA decision to revoke a Clean Water Act section 404 permit previously
issued by the US Army Corps of Engineers to the Mingo Logan Coal Co. in West
Virginia. That permit would have authorized Mingo Logan to discharge dredged
and/or fill material into federal waters.
The introduction of the Regulatory Fairness Act drew
immediate criticism from the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development
Association, which represents the 1,850 commercial salmon driftnet fishermen
who harvest sockeye salmon in Bristol Bay.
“This attempt to re-write the Clean Water Act would extend
the uncertainty which has hung over our fishery since the proposed Pebble mine
came on the scene a decade ago, said Katherine Carscallen, sustainability
director for the BBRSDA. “If the senators truly care about American jobs, they
should start by listening to Bristol Bay and standing up for the 14,000
sustainable jobs it provides.”
According to an economic report produced last May by the
University of Alaska’s Institute for Social and Economic Research, the Bristol
Bay salmon industry supports a significant number of jobs in Alaska,
Washington, Oregon and California, with the total value of Bristol bay salmon
product exports in 2010 alone worth about $370 million. The full report is
online at

Backers of the massive copper, gold and molybdenum Pebble
mine maintain that the mine can be constructed and operated in harmony with the
world-renowned commercial salmon fishery. The fishery is also critical to the
sport angler industry, thousands of subsistence harvesters and an abundance of
wildlife in the region.

Opponents of the mine contend that the mine has great
potential to adversely effect critical habitat for spawning and return of the
salmon to natal streams.