ANCHORAGE — Alaska’s freshman senator has filed his first amendment, and it is aimed at keeping firearms out of the hands of Environmental Protection Agency agents.
Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan said Friday he filed the amendment to follow through with a promise he made while campaigning in Fairbanks last fall. The idea to disarm the EPA came after agents swept into the mining town of Chicken wearing body armor and carrying rifles in August 2013 while investigating possible violations of the Clean Water Act, Sullivan said.
The amendment is attached to a larger bill that would authorize the Keystone XL pipeline.
In fall 2013, miners in the Chicken area told the Daily News-Miner they felt intimidated by the agents, who, in some cases, did not identify themselves when arriving at mines in all-terrain vehicles. An EPA spokesperson described the discussions as “consensual and cordial.”
The investigation was based on reports of mines with a history of not complying with state and federal clean water laws and “ongoing significant discharges,” the EPA said in a written statement in September 2013.
There have been no federal charges or arrests, at least so far, as a result of the investigation.
Asked about the raid and Sullivan’s amendment Friday, an EPA spokeswoman referred questions to agency officials in Washington, D.C., who did not respond to a request for comment by late Friday.
Sullivan said in a phone interview the issue, while important to Alaska and its miners, goes beyond the incident in Chicken.
“I think there’s this conventional wisdom that the federal government is always growing, always into new areas, always gaining new responsibilities,” Sullivan said. “Part of what I ran on is that is not some kind of law of nature. We can roll back some of the responsibilities and authorities of the federal government.”
Looking at the history of the EPA, which was formed in the early 1970s, it was not until the late 1980s that the agents were authorized to carry firearms, said Sullivan, who had researched the congressional hearings from that time. Originally, the authorization was to protect agents investigating hazardous waste dumps connected to the mafia, he said.
“I don’t think that was a fear that ever materialized. But anyway, they got armed,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan described himself as a strong proponent of American citizens’ right to own and possess firearms. But not all federal agents need to be armed, he said.
If EPA agents feel they might be threatened while carrying out an investigation, they can contact a federal marshal or local law enforcement for help, Sullivan said. The agents themselves do not need to be armed, he said.
“To be honest, I don’t think they need that power. They can still do their job,” Sullivan said. “I’m a strong proponent of the Second Amendment. I’m all for an armed citizenry but not an armed bureaucracy.”
Sullivan admitted the amendment is not directly related to the Keystone pipeline bill, but he said the Republican-led Senate is getting back to a way of writing laws Democrats had stifled.
Adding amendments like the one to disarm the EPA will allow the Senate to get more work done, Sullivan said.
Asked why the amendment only deals with the EPA, rather than some other agencies that arm certain personnel, like the Department of Education, Sullivan said it was a matter of focus.
“Sometimes the ability to get things done early on relates to if you’re narrowly focused or not,” he said. “I think this is an issue that resonates with a lot of people.”
Staff writer Casey Grove is the News-Miner’s Anchorage reporter. Contact him at 770-0722 or follow on Twitter: @kcgrove.