WASHINGTON — The Obama administration has turned bureaucrats at environmental agencies into armed SWAT teams to conduct unprecedented raids on small mining operations for what used to be simple reviews of clean water permits.
That’s according to Colorado Republican Rep. Doug Lamborn, chairman of the House Natural Resources subcommittee on energy and mineral resources.
The panel held a hearing Thursday that examined the August raid of armed federal officials including the Environmental Protection Agency in Chicken, Alaska.
Lamborn said the “EPA SWAT team of heavily armed and armored agents conducted paperwork inspections on small mining operations, in what appears nothing more than an effort to intimidate and scare hardworking Americans.”
The armed bureaucrats were supposedly collecting water samples at the gold mines and included officials from the Alaska Department of Public Safety and federal agents of the EPA, Bureau of Land Management, Coast Guard, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Park Service, FBI, and Fish and Wildlife Service.
Rep. Peter DeFazio, Oregon Democrat, criticized Lamborn’s characterization of the events as overblown, and called his description “incredible hyperbole.”
“I’m quite familiar with law enforcement, and armed SWAT team is a particular specialty and they carry automatic weapons, long arms, and other things,” DeFazio said.
“These were law enforcement agents of both the state of Alaska and the federal government entering onto federal lands, and they were carrying holstered side arms,” DeFazio said.
“That isn’t a swat team raid, let’s not get a little overboard here and say that somehow that constitutes a swat team. It’s routine for law enforcement officers to carry side arms and that has been blown out of proportion,” DeFazio said.
Rep. Don Young, Alaska Republican, fired back that the officials were carrying M16s and “assault shotguns,” and said the raid was not on federal land, but on state mining claims on state land.
“We consider them raids,” said Sheldon Maier, president of Alaska’s Fortymile Mining District 29 where the incident occurred.
“It was a serious invasion,” Maier told the congressional panel.
The officials “charged in” to 30 different mining locations, refused to identify what agency they represented, climbed and “poked around” mining equipment, saying only that they were there to enforce the Clean Water Act, Maier said.
“Not withstanding this unacceptable show of force, we are used to getting inspected by state and federal agencies,” Maier said. “This is definitely not professional conduct of a law enforcement agent.”
“I’ve been mining for 22 years in the Fortymile,” Maier said. “We drink the water, we eat the fish, we care deeply for the land. We don’t want to see it ruined.”
Democrats on the panel criticized Republicans for holding the hearing during the government shutdown when EPA officials could attend to give their side of the story.
The panel has oversight authority over mining operations, but DeFazio said because it does not have authority over the EPA, the hearing was a sham.
“We’re having a pretend hearing on something we can’t do anything about,” DeFazio said.
Young said the actions were unacceptable for any U.S. government employee, and questioned whether Democrats on the panel represented the little guy or big government.
“You sit back on your side of the aisle and you say ‘Oh, the government is so good, let’s hug ‘em,’ when they are in fact hurting people,” Young said.
“You’re supposed to be for the little guy, you’re for big government,” Young said. “Government can’t be wrong. Government’s always right.”
“They rolled a 79-year old man around in the mud arrested him, on nothing charges. And you’re supposed to be for the little guy. No, you’re for big government. Forget your liberal labels, if you really believe in the people, start thinking about the little people, and shame on you if you don’t,” Young said.