The effort by the EPA to finalize their "Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment" has been delayed as the agency intends to add to the document and undertake another peer review. That has prompted additional questions from members of Congress.
Last week the Chairman of the Science, Space and Technology Committee in the House of Representatives sent a letter to the acting EPA Administrator asking for another agency briefing to clarify issues raised by the initial peer review report. Representative Lamar Smith is from Texas and he stressed that EPA staff should be able to provide information on how much money has been spent preparing the "Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment" and a list of similar watershed assessments prepared in advance of permit applications for a large mining project. The letter was also signed by Representative Paul Broun from Georgia. He's the Chair of the Subcommittee on Oversight. In the letter they declared that they are deeply concerned by the EPA's rationale for conducting the draft watershed assessment.
"By initiating the Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment, it appears as though EPA is selectively using its authority to conduct scientific assessments to create new regulatory burdens."
Smith and Broun are asking that all requested documents be given to the Committee by April 3rd and they also want a date for the briefing by April 3rd. The EPA began the process of developing the Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment in response to a handful of tribal governments and other groups who raised concerns about potential environmental, water quality, and fisheries impacts from proposed large mining projects in the region... including the much talked about Pebble Mine. The tribes and other organizations still want the EPA to invoke it's authority under section 404-C of the Clean Water act to veto dredge and fill permits that would be required for any large mining project in the region. The EPA has never used that authority prior to the filing of permit applications. Instead of acting on the request from the tribes and other organizations the EPA started the process of looking at the issue more in depth through the creation of the watershed assessment. It's anticipated that the final version of the watershed assessment will be out before the end of the year but the EPA has not further defined the timeline.