After a powerful lobbyist intervenes, EPA Reverses Stance on polluting Texas county's water
Published: March 20, 2013
She wrote Perciasepe more than 25 times over an 11-month period, requesting meetings and phone calls, and at least once interrupting Perciasepe's weekend.
"Hiking. Will call later," Perciasepe wrote.
Podesta often struck an informal tone, sending emails with subject lines such as "are we having fun yet?" and "rumors...sigh."
In May, Podesta and her husband Tony, also an influential lobbyist, invited Perciasepe to their home for "a gathering of friends from the worlds of art and politics." (It was reported earlier this year that the Podestas have since separated.)
The EPA says such lobbying is routine -- not only by energy companies, but by environmental groups -- and that part of Perciasepe's job is to listen to all sides and facilitate a conversation. Even environmental advocates say they view this as a legitimate part of the rulemaking process.
At first, the pressure brought by Podesta didn't appear to have much of an effect.
In mid-2012, EPA staffers in Texas were still resolved to deny Uranium Energy's permit. Honker and others pushed the company and state regulators for additional scientific study.
In an email to Perciasepe, Podesta wrote that Uranium Energy was "frustrated" by the lack of clear direction and warned that Texas regulators might be considering a lawsuit against the agency because of the delay in granting approval. She urged him to bring the parties back to the table.
By early summer the sides began to discuss a compromise. Uranium Energy would provide some additional scientific data to the agency and it would shrink the size and depth of the part of the Evangeline Aquifer that it proposed to pollute, but it would not have to do the detailed analysis the EPA had wanted. The area exempted would be about 27 percent smaller, allowing a bigger buffer between the mine site and the homes drawing water from the aquifer.
Some of the testing data previously submitted by Uranium Energy showed that underground contaminants would flow south east from the mine site, toward homes in Goliad County. Under the compromise, the EPA allowed the company to exclude this data as "anomalous"; the remaining data showed contaminants would flow east, narrowly missing the homes.
In July, Podesta wrote to Perciasepe that "the progress made over the last few weeks would not have been possible without all of the time and effort you and your office have put into this project."
The residents of Goliad County sensed a shift in momentum. Dohmann pressed EPA staffers for an update. "We're no longer in the loop," he recalled them saying. "The decision has gone upstairs, and we don't have any idea what's going on."