If President Barack Obama is concerned about jobs, he has a strange way of showing it. Recent actions in Alaska, West Virginia, and Arizona reveal the astonishing ways in which his administration is twisting environmental law in order to block natural resource production – destroying jobs in the process.
On May 11, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released an assessment of the Bristol Bay watershed, an area of approximately 20,000 square miles (roughly twice the size of Maryland) in southwest Alaska. The assessment is a superficial cut-and-paste job designed to give the EPA a basis for denying a Clean Water Act permit for the Pebble Mine project.
The proposed site would be one of the world’s largest copper, gold, and molybdenum mines. It would directly employ 1,000 people for at least 30 years in high-paying jobs while indirectly creating thousands more manufacturing and service jobs. Yet the EPA’s regional administrator claimed that Pebble could have an adverse impact on Bristol Bay’s salmon fishery, which produces half the world’s wild sockeye salmon.
This claim is preposterous.
The EPA’s watershed assessment concludes that a big mine could lead to the loss of only 54-88 miles of small streams and 3.9-6.7 square miles of wetlands. The Bristol Bay watershed has thousands of miles of rivers and streams. A loss of 6.7 square miles in a state that has 175,000 square miles of wetlands is not even a drop in the bucket.
The EPA spent less than a year throwing its assessment together. By contrast, the Pebble Mine developer has spent $120 million over eight years on exhaustive environmental studies from top scientists and experts. In February, they released an environmental baseline document 27,000 pages long.
Yet, the Obama EPA plans to use its sketchy 338-page assessment as the basis for denying the mine a wetlands permit—before the company even applies for it and submits the voluminous documentation required. Worse, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson doesn’t even pretend to be objective. She was the featured speaker at an anti-Pebble event last year.
The EPA is using similarly outrageous methods to shut down a coal mine – and 250 jobs – in West Virginia.
In early May, the Obama administration appealed a federal court decision that blocked the EPA’s attempt to revoke a Clean Water Act permit for the mine. After the Army Corps of Engineers issued the permit in 2007, the Arch Coal Company began the $250 million investment in the Spruce No. 1 Mine. The mine has been operating for several years, but the EPA wants to shut it down even though the mine hasn’t violated any environmental protections.
In Arizona, it’s the National Park Service (NPS) that is out of control. In January, the Park Service announced a 20-year ban on any uranium mining on 1 million acres near Grand Canyon National Park.
A House investigation recently revealed that the Park Service’s estimates of the possible impacts of uranium mining on the Grand Canyon were criticized by one of its own scientists. In an internal 2011 email, NPS hydro-geologist Larry Martin wrote: “My personal and professional opinion is that the potential impacts stated in the DEIS (Draft Environmental Impact Statement) as grossly overestimated and even then they are very minor and even negligible.”
In another email Dr. Bill Jackson, chief of the NPS’s Water Resources Division, wrote about Martin’s findings: “There exists no information we could find that would contradict his conclusion, nor any hypothesis suggested as to how contamination of park waters might physically occur.”
Determined to ban uranium mining, the EPA’s Jackson went on to discuss “the best way to ‘finesse'” these inconvenient scientific facts.
As destructive as these three actions are, they are not isolated incidents. They are part of a broad campaign to restrict access to oil and natural gas as well as coal and hard rock minerals. New mining projects could provide a major boost to the economy, but will not do so as long as President Obama persists in his regulatory onslaught.
(Myron Ebell is director of the Center for Energy and Environment and its Resourceful Earth Project at the Competitive Enterprise Institute in Washington, DC. Originally posted on The Michigan View.)