Act that Curbs EPA's 404(c) Authority Advances in House

Jul 21, 2014

Don Young debating the Regulatory Certainty Act of 2014
Credit House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee

A measure that would reduce the Environmental Protection Agency’s 404(c) authority advanced through the House Transportation Committee last week.  KDLG’s Chase Cavanaugh has more.

The Regulatory Certainty Act of 2014 has received an approval vote from the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.  The bill, introduced in June by Ohio Congressman Bob Gibbs, curbs the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority under section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act.  Specifically, it would prohibit the EPA from halting a project before the environmental permitting process begins, like what happened with the proposed Pebble mine, and limit the period of consultation to a minimum of 30 days.

Debate generally fell along partisan lines, with Democrats arguing against what they considered a direct assault on the EPA, and Republicans accusing the agency of excessive regulation.  Although the Regulatory Certainty Act was originally meant to deal with permits in lower-48 mining states such as Ohio and West Virginia, there was significant discussion of Bristol Bay.  Washington democrat Rick Larsen said the bill would hurt jobs in his state.

“The bill restricts the EPA from using the Clean Water Act to prevent environmentally harmful projects from going forward.  On February, following a three-year scientific study, the EPA initiated such a process to protect Bristol Bay in Alaska from the proposed Pebble Mine.  Bristol Bay is the home of the largest sockeye salmon fishery in the world.  This year alone, 27 million sockeye salmon have been caught in Bristol Bay, there’s another 3 million that were not.  The fishing season is still going strong.  People fishing in Bristol Bay are small business owners who rely on this natural resource to make a living.  These small businesses add up to a major economic impact in Washington State, where the Bristol Bay fishery alone supports about 73,000 jobs.  The EPA study of this area determined that a large-scale mining project would threaten over 750 fishing permit holders that live in Washington State and go north for fishing.”

Maryland Democrat Donna Edwards went as far as calling the act a giveaway to Northern Dynasty Minerals.

“Here we are, changing the law, changing the application for all of us across the country, because we’re benefitting one company, the Pebble Mine in southwest Alaska. It seems to me that’s where the overreach is.  It is not with the actions of the EPA, not with the previous actions of the EPA, but with us in Congress trying to affect a law that applies all across the country to financially benefit one company at the expense of so many others.  I want to urge my colleagues to vote against this bill so we can retain the right of the Federal government to do the right thing, protect human health, protect our waters, and protect the environment.” 

Alaska Congressman Don Young, a republican, did not appreciate this characterization.

“I’m one member of Congress, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to sit here and watch somebody from Maryland or any other state start telling me or anyone in Alaska how we should be running our state, by a veto from an agency.  I am not happy right now.”

Neither did the bill’s sponsor, Ohio republican Bob Gibbs.  He said in these types of permitting processes, it’s important for an independent expert to make their assessment free of political bias, but he did not consider the EPA that expert.

“The law has designated the Army Corps of Engineers to be the expertise to go in there.  On the case up in Alaska we’re talking about, we ought to be saying “let the permit process work.”  There’s no reason why any agency of this government can come in and just block out a huge area of this country and say “no, we’re not even going to consider it, we’re not going to look at it, we’re not going to let the experts look at it.”  Let the permit process work.” 

Democrats attempted to introduce two amendments to the bill, both which would have increased the consultation period from 30 days, but they were shot down in roll-call votes.  Ultimately, the bill was approved 33-22 in committee, with Don Young voting in favor.  Fishing groups such as Trout Unlimited, and Democratic political opponents such as Forrest Dunbar have expressed their strong disapproval with the bill, as well as Young’s vote.  With an approval vote, the bill is now one step closer to reaching the full House of Representatives.