A top Republican senator accused an environmental group of "bribing" supporters into commenting on a federal environmental study by offering them a chance to win a free fishing trip.
The group, Trout Unlimited, encouraged visitors to its website to comment on a proposed Environmental Protection Agency draft environmental assessment of the impacts of a proposed Alaska copper and gold mine on a nearby watershed.
Commenters who also told a friend to comment on the draft were automatically entered into a drawing to win a free fishing trip at the Bristol Bay, a nearby salmon fishery.
"Win the fishing trip of a lifetime by using the Tell a Friend feature after you take action," Trout Unlimited advertised.
Sen. David Vitter (R., La.), the top Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee, criticized the contest in a statement to the Washington Free Beacon.
"This is a pretty low tactic to try and bribe support of their efforts to preemptively kill a job-creating project," Vitter said. "Skewing the public's response is really unhelpful in the process to get an unbiased review."
Asked to respond to Vitter's remarks, Trout Unlimited spokesman Tim Bristol said he hoped Vitter "would consider coming here and meeting local people, 80 percent of who oppose Pebble Mine, before making such a harsh judgments."
The comment period on the EPA assessment closed over the weekend. According environmental news service E&E News (subscription required), EPA received at least 621,773 comments.
The assessment examines the environmental impact of the Pebble Mine, a proposed copper and gold mine in southwest Alaska.
EPA has come under fire from legislators who say it has needlessly delayed the approval process for the mine.
Vitter says the delays are part of a concerted effort by the agency to kill the project.
"The EPA recently spent hundreds of thousands of taxpayer-provided dollars sending 16 bureaucrats to Alaska to preemptively eliminate over 2,000 jobs projected for mine construction and 1,000 mining jobs," Vitter told the Daily Caller in April.
Rep. Paul Broun (R., Ga.), who chairs the House Science and Technology Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight, told the Free Beacon that extensive EPA examination was superfluous since state officials have sufficient authority to regulate the project.
"EPA's selective use of its authority to conduct scientific assessments to create new regulatory burdens is troubling when one considers that the entire assessment is based on a hypothetical mine," Broun said in an emailed statement.