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After a powerful lobbyist intervenes, EPA Reverses Stance on polluting Texas county's water

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With the support of Texas officials, the company also argued that the EPA had issued such exemptions in the past and was re-interpreting its own rules to thwart the Goliad exemption without justification.

In a testy retort to Honker, Covar accused the EPA of being "swayed by the unsubstantiated allegations and fears" of Goliad County residents.

Officials in Goliad County urged the EPA to stand firm and couldn't understand why the state wouldn't want more testing.

"This is simple hydrology. They say 'Well, in our opinion that fault is confining,'" said Art Dohmann, president of the Goliad County Groundwater Conservation District, the local agency that establishes groundwater management plans under Texas' statewide Water Development Board. "Well, we all have opinions, the pump test will tell you the facts."

With the permit process at a standstill, EPA officials say by June 2012 they had decided not to allow the mine.

"We were prepared at that point to leave the issue right where it stood," said Sam Coleman, who temporarily took over Armendariz's job as the EPA's top regional official overseeing the permitting in Dallas, and is now the region's deputy administrator. "We could not approve the exemption."

* * *

Behind the scenes, however, Uranium Energy was pursuing another path to approval.

The company hired Podesta, whose firm eventually received $400,000 for her services, according to lobbying records filed with the U.S. Senate.

She reached out to Perciasepe, asking him to meet with Uranium Energy's executives because the EPA officials in Texas "did not approve" the aquifer exemption, emails obtained by ProPublica under FOIA show.

Perciasepe agreed, and met with company executives in December 2011.

"We greatly appreciate your assistance to bring Region 6 and UEC to the table to work through these issues," Podesta wrote in early 2012.

When EPA officials in Texas began to push Uranium Energy to do more modeling, Podesta complained to Perciasepe.

"Region 6 keeps changing the standards," she wrote in a Feb. 2, 2012 email.

"I'm looking into it," Perciasepe replied, a day later.

There is no indication that Perciasepe acted unethically in working with Podesta, but her involvement appears to have raised Uranium Energy's exemption request from a small-time regional concern to one that had the attention of the EPA's top staffers in Washington.

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