Process was flawed, but EPA made correct decision

Published 2:58 am Friday, June 19, 2009

By Staff
We were glad to see that the Environmental Protection Agency has decided not to challenge a permit allowing PCS Phosphate to expand its mine near Aurora.
We know that many environmentalists are justifiably worried about what the new mining operations will do to wetlands that feed nursery areas for many coastal species.
But a longer, more drawn-out permitting process would have had unbearable consequences for the people of our county, and the EPA did the right thing. This decision certainly shouldn’t have come down to the last-minute negotiations that were a hallmark of the past six months of the process.
While we’re glad the EPA made the right decision, we’re not sure the government’s environmental watchdog did it for the right reasons. The agency’s stance is, as environmentalists have pointed out, a dramatic shift from its position just weeks ago.
It’s doubtful that the science changed that starkly that shortly. That means that at least one, maybe both, of the positions it has taken were influenced as much by politics as by science.
While unfortunate, that would be in keeping with the travesty that was the entire permitting process. The officials involved, individually, did a conscientious job. Collectively, the whole thing was a mess of outside influence, innuendo, closed-door conversations and hyperbolic rhetoric.
PCS Phosphate changed its application mid-way through the process, and the EPA waited until the last minute to deliver an ultimatum (from which it just backed down). The company applied almost as soon as a Republican was in the White House, and the EPA amped up its public resistance to some parts of the project nearly as soon as a Democrat replaced him. From some citizens’ viewpoints, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers became a proxy for business and local government interests locked in a battle with the EPA, a proxy for environmentalists.In the process, the pro-expansion
crowd’s logic was reduced, in many public minds, to “It’s jobs or wetlands, and the environmentalists want the government to make us pick wetlands.” The environmentalists’ reply was thought to be: “This expansion is humongous and bad and will damage pristine wetlands.”
In the end, the EPA was right to let the permit go through because it’s been more than eight years, and all the talking was starting to hurt regular people.
But if the entire process hadn’t been a rolling mess for the better part of the decade, more of the EPA’s concerns could have, and should have, been reviewed.