WASHINGTON — Minnesota’s Fourth District Congresswoman Betty McCollum, on Monday, formally called for the public release of any written comments that staff with the U.S. Environmental Protection …
WASHINGTON — Minnesota’s Fourth District Congresswoman Betty McCollum, on Monday, formally called for the public release of any written comments that staff with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency prepared in response to a state-issued draft water discharge permit for PolyMet Mining.
In a Feb. 25 letter to Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, McCollum alleges that the EPA, under former Administrator Scott Pruitt, “may have sought to circumvent the requirements of the Federal Records Act by trying to minimize the creation of written records and instead conduct substantive agency business verbally.”
McCollum’s allegation stems from documents released earlier this year by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, which suggest that EPA staff had concerns over the MPCA’s proposed water discharge permit for PolyMet and had intended to submit written comments outlining those concerns. The MPCA released those documents, including hand-written notes from its own staff, in response to a data practices request from the environmental group Water Legacy.
“MPCA’s staffs’ notes suggest that EPA staff raised concerns with several provisions in the permit, including with respect to water quality based effluent limits, monitoring plans to ensure Clean Water Act compliance, and potential risks for increased mercury contamination downstream of the project,” wrote McCollum.
But the EPA never forwarded its concerns in writing and at least one former EPA official has indicated that sources within the agency have told him that political appointees in the agency appear to have suppressed the comments.
“I note that that it is EPA’s usual practice to provide state agencies written comments in these situations,” writes McCollum in her letter to Wheeler.
McCollum said the EPA has an obligation to do its work transparently, particularly given the risks associated with the PolyMet project, a planned open pit copper-nickel mine near Hoyt Lakes. “Sulfide-ore mining has the potential to significantly impact water quality, which is why such an extensive and public permitting process exists. If the qualified, expert EPA scientists and professional staff prepared comments outlining any concerns regarding these permits, then the American people have the right to know,” said McCollum in a statement. “In the interests of transparency and maintaining the public’s trust, I’m requesting that EPA immediately make available to the public the written comments prepared on the PolyMet mining project’s permit.”