Today, U.S. Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), top Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, criticized the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) response to a June 11, 2013 letter he and four other Committee Republicans sent to EPA Senior Policy Advisor Ken Kopocis, regarding the agency's work on the Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment (Assessment).

"EPA claims that ending its premature Assessment work would cause uncertainty for both opponents and proponents of the Pebble Mine project. In fact, it is EPA's unprecedented effort to predetermine the fate of a mining project that has led to much uncertainty for interested parties," Vitter said. "If EPA were to instead allow the trusted Clean Water Act and National Environmental Policy Act processes to play out before speculating on the Pebble Mine project, it would ensure that all parties have a fair and equal opportunity to provide input on whether the project should go forward."

Vitter also raised concerns that EPA mischaracterized the Senators' inquiry in order to distract from the serious issues surrounding the Assessment, indicating EPA's response would be a factor in considering Kopocis' nomination as Assistant Administrator for EPA's Office of Water.

Vitter said, "Our concern remains that the Assessment is biased, unnecessary, and would severely prejudice the regulatory process once project proponents submit a Clean Water Act application. EPA's continued failure to address our concerns will definitely be a factor in considering Kopocis' nomination to head the Office of Water."

In the June 11th letter, Sens. Vitter, John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), and John Boozman (R-Ark.) asked EPA to explain what harm would result from the agency allowing the normal regulatory procedures to play out once Pebble Mine proponents submit an actual Clean Water Act application, pointing out that EPA's premature Assessment is significantly biased and prejudices the regulatory process. However, EPA's response to the Senators' inquiry only adds further question to the Agency's approach to the Assessment.

Click here to read the EPW Committee members' June 11th letter. Click here to see EPA's response.