The Environmental Protection Agency is coming under increasing fire for a raid conducted in Alaska this summer by armed agents seeking violations of the Clean Water Act.
Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell announced late Thursday that he has named a special counsel to investigate the August incident in the tiny town of Chicken, Alaska, shortly after Republicans at a House subcommittee hearing characterized the episode as an effort to intimidate miners.
"[A]n EPA SWAT team of heavily armed and armored agents conducted 'paperwork' inspections on small mining operations in what attempts to be nothing more than an effort to intimidate and scare hardworking Americans," said Rep. Doug Lamborn, Colorado Republican, who heads the House Resources Committee's subcommittee on energy and mineral resources.
Testifying at the Thursday hearing was Sheldon Maier, president of the Fortymile Mining Association, who said the mining operations are accustomed to routine inspections from federal monitors, but that the August incident was nothing like that.
"We consider them raids," said Mr. Maier. "It was a serious invasion."
Officials from the EPA did not testify at the hearing, citing the federal shutdown. The agency released a statement in September saying that the inspections were not raids, but part of an "ongoing investigation" into potential violations of the Clean Water Act.
The statement also defended the agents' carrying of firearms, saying that such investigations "may include the arrest of offenders and the protection of public safety."
"Environmental law enforcement, like other forms of law enforcement, always involves the potential for physical, even armed, confrontation," said the statement.
The inspection included agents from the EPA's Alaska Environmental Crimes Task Force, the FBI, the Coast Guard, the Bureau of Land Management, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Park Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, as well as state agents from the Alaska Department of Public Safety.
Rep. Peter DeFazio, Oregon Democrat, accused Republicans of engaging in "incredible hyperbole."
"These were law enforcement agents of both the state of Alaska and the federal government entering onto federal lands and they were carrying holstered sidearms," said Mr. DeFazio. "That isn't a SWAT team raid."
Rep. Don Young, Alaska Republican, countered that the mines are on state land and that the agents carried M-16s and "assault shotguns."
Mr. Maier said agents wearing flak jackets "charged in," didn't identify themselves, and began "poking around" the 30 mining claims in the Fortymile district. He added that the agents were carrying "not just sidearms."
"Americans deserve better than the EPA. There is no excuse for conducting armed raids on family-owned businesses to look for minor permit violations," said Mr. Lamborn.
In a statement, Mr. Parnell said he has named attorney Brett Cole to lead the investigation into the role of state and federal agencies in the incident, as well as to "ascertain if any laws were violated, and determine whether different actions could have been taken."
"Alaskans deserve to know all of the facts in this case," said Mr. Parnell. "While these facts are being gathered, I will continue to be vigilant in defense of Alaskans' liberty and personal property."
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