Failure of EPA Oversight

Did EPA Suppress Comments on the PolyMet Mine? U.S. House Investigation Requested

On Tuesday, January 15, WaterLegacy urged Cong. Betty McCollum and other House Committee Chairs to investigate new evidence that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suppressed staff comments and failed to fulfill its oversight duties related to Minnesota’s controversial PolyMet NorthMet copper-­‐nickel mine.

Citing documents recently obtained by WaterLegacy under Minnesota’s Data Practices Act, WaterLegacy Advocacy Director and Counsel, Paula Maccabee stated, “It seems that EPA regional staff prepared written comments on the draft PolyMet water pollution permit and wanted to share them with Minnesota regulators, but were directed to suppress their comments. We’re now asking that Congressional leaders get to the bottom of this mess and protect Minnesota’s clean water and public health.”

“EPA scrutiny is essential to make sure that large industrial projects control their toxic water pollution,” added Maccabee. “In the case of Minnesota’s controversial PolyMet sulfide mine, there has been a complete breakdown of EPA’s vital oversight role.”


Cong. Betty McCollum’s (MN-04) Response to Our Request:

“The PolyMet copper-nickel mine project has the potential to significantly damage water quality affecting surrounding communities, the Fond du Lac Tribal Nation, and the Lake Superior watershed. It is remarkable that the EPA did not comment prior to the issuance of water pollution permits by the State of Minnesota.

The data disclosure information revealed in this letter seems to indicate that EPA professional staff did have concerns about violating water quality standards and drafted comments with the intention of making them public. What happened?  

I will be requesting that the EPA release PolyMet-related comments prepared by EPA staff. The public deserves the right to know. I also intend to work with my congressional colleagues on the relevant House committees on this matter, because if the EPA is hiding information related to PolyMet, what other critical information is being kept from the American people? We must ensure that the EPA operates in a transparent manner and that EPA scientists and professional staff can do their job of protecting human health and safety without political interference.

Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler will be sitting before the U.S. Senate tomorrow for his confirmation hearing. I sincerely hope Mr. Wheeler is asked about the EPA’s lack of transparency under his tenure at the agency.”

February 25, 2019: Cong. McCollum Formally Requests Release of EPA Comments on PolyMet

“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. 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.”

READ Cong. Betty McCollum’s letter to Acting EPA Administrator Wheeler

Press Coverage:

“The Minnesota Democrat issued her statement this week in response to concerns raised by the environmental group WaterLegacy, which is fighting the mine project. Paula Maccabee, the group’s attorney, said documents she obtained from the state agency through an open records request suggest that regional EPA career staffers told the state agency’s staffers as recently as last fall that they had “substantial questions” about the water permit, and that they indicated at least earlier in the year that they wanted to submit formal comments.”

READ Key Democrat wants answers from EPA on Minnesota mine plan, The Washington Post, January 17, 2019