Obama’s War on Resource Industries

Also published in The Orange County Register.

As much as President Barack Obama claims to be concerned about jobs for Americans, he has a strange way of showing it.

Three recent actions in Alaska, West Virginia, and Arizona reveal the astonishing ways in which the Obama administration is twisting our nation's environmental laws in order to block natural resource production, and destroy jobs in the process.

On May 11, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released an assessment of the Bristol Bay watershed, an area of approximately 20,000 square miles (roughly twice the size of Maryland) in southwest Alaska.

The assessment is a superficial cut-and-paste job designed to give the EPA a basis for denying a Clean Water Act permit for a major mining project known as the Pebble Mine.

The EPA's watershed assessment concludes that a big mine could lead to the loss of 54 to 88 miles of small streams and 3.9 to 6.7 square miles of wetlands.

The Region 10 administrator claimed that a mine such as Pebble could have an adverse impact, mostly through loss of habitat, on Bristol Bay's salmon fishery, which produces half the world's wild sockeye salmon.

This claim is preposterous. The Bristol Bay watershed has thousands of miles of rivers and streams. A loss of 6.7 square miles of wetlands in a State that has 175,000 square miles of wetlands is not even a drop in the bucket.

The proposed Pebble Mine would be one of the world's largest copper, gold, and molybdenum mines. It would directly employ approximately 1,000 people for at least 30 years in high-paying jobs and indirectly create thousands more manufacturing and service jobs.

The EPA spent less than a year throwing its assessment together.

By contrast, the company developing the Pebble Mine has spent $120 million over the past eight years in commissioning an exhaustive array of environmental studies from top scientists and experts.

In February, they released an environmental baseline document of 27,000 pages.

Yet, the Obama EPA plans to use its sketchy 338-page assessment as the basis for denying a wetlands permit for the Pebble Mine — before the company even applies for it and submits the voluminous documentation required.

Even more mendaciously, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson doesn't pretend to be objective. She was the featured speaker at an anti-Pebble event last year.

The EPA is using similarly outrageous methods to shut down a coal mine in West Virginia. In early May, the Obama administration appealed a federal court decision that blocked the EPA's attempt to revoke a Clean Water Act permit for the mine.

After the Army Corps of Engineers issued the permit in 2007, the Arch Coal Co. began the $250 million investment in the Spruce No. 1 Mine that will eventually employ 250 people.

The mine has been operating for several years, but the EPA wants to shut it down even though it is not claiming that the mine has violated any of the stringent environmental protections required by the permit.

And in Arizona, it's the National Park Service that is out of control. In January, the Park Service announced a 20-year ban on any uranium mining on 1 million acres of federal lands in northern Arizona near Grand Canyon National Park.

An ongoing investigation by the House Natural Resources Committee under Chairman Doc Hastings, R-Wash., recently revealed that the Park Service's estimates of the possible impacts of uranium mining on the Grand Canyon were strongly criticized by one of its own scientists.

In an internal 2011 email, NPS hydro-geologist Larry Martin wrote: "My personal and professional opinion is that the potential impacts stated in the DEIS (Draft Environmental Impact Statement) as grossly overestimated and even then they are very minor and even negligible."

In another email uncovered by the House committee's investigation, Dr. Bill Jackson, chief of the Park Services' Water Resources Division, wrote about Martin's findings:

"There exists no information we could find that would contradict his conclusion, nor any hypothesis suggested as to how contamination of park waters might physically occur."

But the Obama administration was determined to ban uranium mining, and Jackson, being a loyal bureaucrat, went on to discuss "the best way to 'finesse' " these inconvenient scientific facts.

As destructive as these three actions are, they are unfortunately not isolated incidents. They are part of a broad campaign to restrict access to oil and natural gas as well as coal and hardrock minerals.

New mining projects could provide a major boost to the economy, but will not do so as long as Congress and the American people allow President Obama to persist in his regulatory onslaught.