EPA study cites report from admitted data fakers

Michael Bastasch | Contributor

The Environmental Protection Agency’s revised draft assessment of an Alaska mine project cites research from environmental consultants who admitted falsifying a report in an environmental lawsuit.

The EPA’s new review of the potential Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay, Alaska, relied on research from Stratus Consulting and Ann Maest, the company’s managing scientist. Stratus recently admitted to providing false statements in a decades-long $19 billion lawsuit against the oil company Chevron.

Maest and Stratus claimed earlier this month that they had been misled by a plaintiffs’ lawyer when they provided an environmental report detailing the damage done by Chevron subsidiary Texaco to areas of Ecuador. They disavowed the report as “tainted.”

The environmental impact report used against Chevron was supposed to be written by an independent expert, but was instead written by Stratus, which was employed by lawyers representing Ecuadorian villagers.

“I now believe that the damages assessment in the Cabrera Report and Cabrera Response is tainted. Therefore, I disavow any and all findings and conclusions in all of my reports and testimony on the Ecuador Project,” said Ann Maest, managing scientist for Stratus, in a court declaration.

Stratus was hired by trial lawyer Steven Donziger, who is representing Ecuadorian villagers against Chevron, alleging that Chevron is responsible for environmental damages caused by its subsidiary Texaco from 1964 to 1992. Chevron acquired Texaco in 2001.

Stratus executive vice president Doug Beltman said that Donziger ordered that portions of the report detailing the environmental damages be drafted in the first person to appear as if it were written by Richard Cabrera, the court-appointed independent expert.

“Donziger stressed to me and Ann Maest the importance of Stratus ensuring that no one learn of Stratus’ involvement in any aspect of the Cabrera Report or Responses,” said Beltman.

The ghost-written report was used as evidence during Chevron’s trial in Ecuador, which resulted in a $19 billion judgment against Chevron.

“I disavow any and all findings and conclusions in all of my reports and testimony on the Ecuador Project. I deeply regret that I allowed myself and my company to be used in the Lago Agrio Litigation in the way that we were,” Beltman said in his court declaration.

Chevron initiated a countersuit against Donziger and Stratus, accusing them of fraud and racketeering. Chevron dropped the suit after Stratus retracted its statements.

Beltman and Maest gave statements in which they “say they were not aware of scientific evidence of groundwater contamination in the former Texaco concession area or of any adverse health impact to people from the operations,” reported The New York Times.

“Stratus believes that the damages assessment in the Cabrera Report and the entire Cabrera process were fatally tainted and are not reliable,” the company said in a statement. “Stratus disavows the Cabrera Report, has agreed to cooperate fully and to provide testimony about the Ecuador litigation.”

The company’s involvement in the Chevron case does not appear to have dampened the EPA’s willingness to work with Stratus. The regulator’s review of the Pebble Mine cites Maest’s work in conjunction with Stratus seven times. The review also cites Maest’s work in conjunction with consulting firm Buka Environmental four times.

“The EPA’s decision to publish a report that relies on Maest’s research mere days after the firm and this individual have been discredited is troubling,” said Dan McGroarty, president of the American Resources Policy Network, in an email. “Even before publicly admitting to falsifying research, Maest had been hired as a consultant by numerous anti-mining advocacy groups, calling her objectivity into question.”

The EPA did not immediately respond to The Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.

On Friday, the EPA released its second draft assessment of large-scale mining operations in Bristol Bay and raised concerns that mining impacts salmon habitats by claiming at least 24 miles of streams in the area. This would result in the loss of 1,200 to 4,800 acres of wetlands.

The previous draft assessment of the potential Pebble Mine raised similar concerns over salmon habitats and wetlands by evaluating a hypothetical mine, as no actual plans for the mine have been put forward yet.

This time around, the EPA used “plans developed for Northern Dynasty Minerals, which has a stake in the proposed Pebble Mine; data collected by Pebble Limited Partnership; and its own experts to come up with three different mine scenarios,” reports The Associated Press.

Critics contend that this revised assessment is still flawed as it still does not evaluate the actual mine.

“Attempts to prejudge any mining project before the full details of that proposal are submitted to the EPA for review is unacceptable,” said Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski. “If the EPA has concerns about the impact of a project there is an appropriate time to raise them — after a permit application has been made, not before.”

“While we need to review the document in detail, it seems the EPA has not changed its deeply flawed approach of creating and evaluating a completely hypothetical mine plan, instead of waiting until a real, detailed mine plan is submitted to regulators as part of a complete permit application,” said Pebble Partnership CEO John Shively.

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