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EPA chief tells Congress that agency can't find some emails from Alaska biologist

WASHINGTON - The Environmental Protection Agency said Wednesday it's can't find emails from a former biologist who was evaluating the impact of a large gold and copper mine proposed in southwest Alaska.

EPA administrator Gina McCarthy told a House oversight committee that the agency to date has been unable to recover some records the panel is seeking on the Pebble Mine project. The agency notified the National Archives and Records Administration of the missing emails on Tuesday, the same day its chief told Congress that the Internal Revenue Service had violated the law by not reporting a loss of records after an executive's computer crashed.

"We have notified the appropriate authorities that we may have some emails that we cannot produce that we should have kept," McCarthy said.

"We have no appreciation for failed hard drives," said Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., who chairs the oversight committee.

The agency, in its letter reporting the problem, said that it had no reason to believe the documents were intentionally destroyed. For nearly a year, the committee has sought to obtain the records or talk to Phil North, a biologist based in Alaska who retired from the agency in 2013. The agency has already turned over thousands of documents to the panel from North's laptop, old computer, three external hard drives and files on the agency's servers.

Republicans on the panel suggested that North was colluding to halt the project. The committee is investigating the rare use of EPA authority that could end up blocking or restricting the mine project, which would be located near the headwaters of a premier sockeye salmon fishery.

McCarthy said Wednesday North was not a decision-maker.

"We have notified the appropriate authorities that we may have some emails that we cannot produce that we should have kept," McCarthy said.

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