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CEI Again Asks EPA to Withdraw or Correct Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment

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The Competitive Enterprise Institute today announced it sent a letter to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler, demanding a response to CEI’s November 2018 Request for Correction regarding the agency’s Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment (BBWA). The assessment was EPA’s basis for rejection of the Pebble Mine project in Alaska. 

In a letter dated August 15, 2019, EPA told CEI that the Request for Correction is no longer necessary since the Notice of Determination has been withdrawn. But, as the letter points out, this fails to address the fact that without withdrawing the flawed determination, EPA and other agencies are still disseminating a flawed determination that fails to meet the standards of the Information Quality Act.

CEI’s letter says: 

“While we applaud the agency for withdrawing the Proposed Determination and co-operating with the Army Corps of Engineers in its review of the Pebble Mine, we disagree that the Request for Correction is no longer necessary and reiterate our strong interest in its expeditious completion. The Information Quality Act applies to information that is being disseminated by an agency and requires that the ‘disseminated information should adhere to a basic standard of quality, including objectivity, utility, and integrity.’ We explained in our Request for Correction how the BBWA falls well short of this standard.”

In a letter dated February 13, 2019, EPA promised to respond to CEI’s Request for Correction by June 21, 2019, but on June 20, 2019, EPA sent a letter stating an unspecified amount of additional time is needed to respond. 

Full text of CEI’s letter to EPA Administrator Wheeler:

Re: Request for Correction Number 19001 Pertaining to the Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment

Dear Administrator Wheeler:

On November 14, 2018, the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) filed a Request for Correction under the Information Quality Act regarding the Environmental Protection Agency’s Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment (BBWA). In that request, we also asked that your agency withdraw its 2014 Proposed Determination regarding the Pebble Mine in Alaska, which was based on the BBWA and served to effectively block the project from moving forward. On July 30, 2019, the EPA Region 10 Administrator indeed withdrew the Proposed Determination and stated that EPA will instead participate in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review of the mine currently being conducted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.   

In a letter dated August 15, 2019, Chief Information Officer and Deputy Assistant Administrator of Environmental Information Vaughn Noga told us that the Request for Correction is no longer necessary since the Notice of Determination has been withdrawn. While we applaud the agency for withdrawing the Proposed Determination and co-operating with the Army Corps of Engineers in its review of the Pebble Mine, we disagree that the Request for Correction is no longer necessary and reiterate our strong interest in its expeditious completion.

The Information Quality Act applies to information that is being disseminated by an agency and requires that the “disseminated information should adhere to a basic standard of quality, including objectivity, utility, and integrity.” We explained in our Request for Correction how the BBWA falls well short of this standard. Although the Proposed Determination has been withdrawn, the flawed BBWA still represents EPA’s position on the Pebble Mine and is still being disseminated and used as such. For example, it was relied upon by several commenters in the Army Corps of Engineers’ NEPA process, including the U.S. Department of the Interior.  Thus, the BBWA still falls within the scope of the Information Quality Act and our Request for Correction remains valid.

We have now been waiting more than nine months for EPA to do a substantive review of the BBWA under the Information Quality Act. In a February 13, 2019 letter to CEI, your agency pushed back its deadline to respond to June 21, but then in a June 20, 2019 letter said that the process was still ongoing and would require an unspecified additional amount of time. Now, with the August 15 letter, your agency has unilaterally and incorrectly decided that the matter is over without having conducted a review of the BBWA. It should be noted that the Office of Management and Budget, in its April 24, 2019 Memorandum For the Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies on Improving Implementation of the Information Quality Act, set a 120-day deadline to review such requests, a deadline that EPA has far exceeded. We again ask for expeditious consideration of the Request for Correction. Thank you.

Respectfully Submitted,

Ben Lieberman

Senior Fellow 

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