Murkowski Questions EPA’s Use of Special Designation to Derail Development

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, is asking Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson to explain her agency’s use of a controversial environmental designation to object to projects approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Murkowski raised her concerns to Jackson in a letter Dec. 20.

“The EPA recently used a little-known administrative provision to stop two important economic development projects in Alaska without public input, consultation or notice,” Murkowski said.

The EPA’s decision to designate the Colville and Tanana rivers as “aquatic resources of national importance” (ARNI) threatens to block the first development in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska and a railroad project connecting Fairbanks and Delta Junction.

Under a 1992 agreement with the Army Corps regarding shared jurisdiction of discharge permits under the Clean Water Act, the EPA agreed not to attempt to override Army Corps’ decisions except in cases involving “substantial and unacceptable” impacts to an ARNI.

The EPA’s web site lists only 16 cases in the 18 years since the agreement was put in place in which the agency has requested the Army Corps review a requested permit. In the last 6 months, however, there have been two additional instances of the EPA intervening with regard to Corps’ permits in Alaska alone.

At issue is how and when the EPA determines a waterway qualifies for ARNI status. Murkowski raised her concerns after discovering that there was no definition of an ARNI under the Clean Water Act or the EPA or Army Corps regulations.  

“The application of EPA’s authority in these cases raises substantial questions regarding the process followed by the agency, especially in light of the nearly complete lack of public process, notice or justification for such a designation,” Murkowski said. “The EPA cannot simply invoke ARNI status to block development that the agency objects to.”

Among Murkowski’s chief concerns is ConocoPhillips’ CD-5 project in NPR-A, where the EPA declared the Colville River an ARNI and subsequently vetoed the construction of a bridge needed to access the oil field.

Also of concern is the EPA’s unilateral decision less than one month ago to designate the Tanana River an ARNI. The Tanana was so designated only after the Alaska Railroad Corp. applied to build a rail line between Fairbanks and Delta Junction.

“. . . the EPA process must become substantially more transparent and predictable than it now appears, particularly with regard to ARNI designations in Alaska,” Murkowski wrote in the letter to Jackson.

The full text of the letter is attached.