REGIONAL— Fourth District Congresswoman Betty McCollum said she’s requesting that the federal Environmental Protection Agency release prepared comments from the agency’s professional staff that …
REGIONAL— Fourth District Congresswoman Betty McCollum said she’s requesting that the federal Environmental Protection Agency release prepared comments from the agency’s professional staff that may have expressed concerns about air and water quality permits issued to PolyMet Mining by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
A recent public data request to the MPCA, by Duluth-based Water Legacy, revealed evidence that someone within the agency or elsewhere may have blocked the submission of those comments, prepared by career EPA regulators, to the MPCA. Water Legacy legal counsel Paula Maccabee provided the documents to McCollum and others in Washington and has asked for an investigation.
The EPA is considered a cooperating agency in the PolyMet environmental review and permitting process, and the agency has routinely provided highly detailed and authoritative comments as the project has advanced. It was highly unusual when the MPCA processed final air and water quality permits for PolyMet without receiving written comments from the agency.
Maccabee said the EPA had rebuffed her effort to obtain the comments or related documents from the federal agency, demanding as much as $10,000 to even search for the records she requested. She made a similar request, however, to the MPCA, which provided hand-written notes from state regulators which documented conversations between MPCA officials and the EPA. The notes suggest that EPA officials had several concerns with the permits being proposed by the MPCA, including questions about the water quality standards being applied to the company’s water discharge permit. The notes also indicated that EPA officials expected to provide their usual written comments, but that appears to have changed somewhere in the process.
“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,” said McCollum in a statement issued on Tuesday. “What happened?”
McCollum said she’ll be seeking release of the comments prepared by the agency.
“The public deserves to know,” she added. “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.”
If EPA officials believed that the MPCA permits might not comply with federal law, Maccabee said agency professionals had a legal obligation to note that in official comments. “It’s clear the career staff at EPA had concerns and wanted them in writing,” said Maccabee. “The question is, who suppressed those comments?”