A powerful House Republican has waded into the Drakes Bay Oyster Co. controversy by asking the Interior Department for copies of all the documents related to last year's decision not to renew the Marin County oyster farm's permit.
Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, made the request in a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar that revived allegations of scientific misconduct in the government's assessment of the oyster farm's impact on Drake's Estero in the Point Reyes National Seashore.
"Serious questions have been raised about the science used by the National Park Service to justify the closure of the oyster farm," Hastings said in a written statement.
Oyster farm operator Kevin Lunny said he appreciated Hastings' support, while Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, whose district includes Marin County, said it reflected a Republican Party agenda to make public lands "available to oil and mining interests to exploit."
Huffman, one of six California Democrats on the resources committee, also said that Hastings' engagement in the oyster farm case was "a political witch hunt to embarrass the administration."
Hastings' letter gave Salazar until April 26 to submit a massive number of reports, emails and other documents related to the secretary's Nov. 29 decision that resulted in an order to close the farm, which harvests $1.5 million worth of oysters a year from the estero.
That order has been stayed by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, which has agreed to hear a lawsuit filed by Lunny on May 14. His suit contends that Salazar's decision was "arbitrary and capricious."
Hastings' letter Friday marked the second time in two months that federal lawmakers have taken up Lunny's cause.
In March, Sen. David Vitter, R-La., included a provision granting the oyster company a permit in a still-pending bill aimed at creating 2 million jobs and $2 trillion in federal taxes through commercial use of natural resources, including offshore oil drilling and approval of the Keystone XL pipeline.
Hastings' letter is "just starting the oversight process" and does not represent an official investigation, said Mallory Micetich, a spokeswoman for the House resources committee.
The Interior Department's response "will dictate how we play out the rest of it," she said.
A department spokeswoman said Tuesday she could not comment on pending litigation.
Lunny said he welcomed the committee's involvement in a case that has roiled west Marin County politics for years, prompting intervention by Sen. Dianne Feinstein in 2009.
Feinstein, who accused the park service of faulty science, wrote the legislation that gave Salazar sole discretion to renew the oyster farm's permit.
"No one should be afraid of an inquiry to see that the scientific process was respected," Lunny said, adding that Huffman should support President Barack Obama's call for scientific integrity in government decision-making.
"If the GOP leadership is interested in science, this would be a first," Huffman said.
Lunny asserted that the Park Service's environmental report, including a finding that oyster farm operations had impacted a harbor seal colony in the estero, was flawed.
Fundraising Pancake Breakfast
When: Sunday, March 25, 8-11:30 p.m.
Where: Wilmar Volunteer Firehouse, 3825 Bodega Avenue, Petaluma
Cost: $10 adults, $5 children