EPA under fire for continuing to use consultant that fabricated data

Michael Bastasch | Contributor

A mining policy group is urging Congress to investigate the Environmental Protection agency’s relationship with an environmental consulting firm that recently admitted to falsifying a key report in a multi-billion dollar environmental lawsuit.

“We were concerned by the news of this admission, as public records show that EPA has multiple active contracts with Stratus Consulting collectively worth up to tens of millions of taxpayer dollars,” said Daniel McGroarty, president of the American Resources Policy Network (ARPN), in a letter to Congress and the Obama administration.

Stratus was hired by U.S. trial lawyer Steven Donziger, who represents Ecuadorian villagers in a lawsuit against Chevron over environmental damages allegedly caused by the company’s subsidiary Texaco.

The company was ordered by Donziger to write portions of the report detailing the environmental damages in the first person to make it appear as if it was written by Richard Cabrera, the court-appointed independent expert.

This environmental report was used as evidence during Chevron’s trial in Ecuador, resulting in a $19 billion judgment against the company.

“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,” said Stratus executive vice president Doug Beltman in his court declaration.

However, it was also reported that research by Stratus scientist Ann Maest was cited by the EPA in its second draft assessment of the Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay, Alaska. The Pebble Mine has been a battleground between the EPA and congressional Republicans over the limits of the environmental agency’s power.

“We also discovered that several research reports authored by Ann Maest, Managing Scientist for Stratus Consulting — who played a key role in producing and personally disavowed the falsified research in Ecuador — are currently being used to support a major environmental assessment by EPA,” McGroarty said.

Maest was involved in the Chevron controversy in her capacity as Stratus’ managing scientist.

“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,” she said in a court declaration.

The EPA’s second assessment of Pebble Mine cites two non-peer-reviewed studies authored by Maest. The letter from ARPN also claims that Maest was hired by advocacy groups that are explicitly opposed to the Pebble Mine.

“We’re concerned that EPA could stop the development of what may be the largest-ever domestic copper resource before the permitting process has begun — and based on research presented by authors who have admitted falsifying their findings in other environmental studies,” McGroarty said.

The EPA released its first draft assessment of the Pebble Mine based on a hypothetical mine, a move criticized by industry and congressional Republicans. 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 note the revised assessment still does not evaluate the actual mine.

“Given the recent admissions made by Stratus Consulting and its researchers, we hope that the agency will conduct a thorough review of its relationship with Stratus Consulting, including work contracted directly to the firm and its employees, as well as scientific studies published by the firm and its employees that the EPA has referenced to make any policy or support any regulatory actions,” McGroarty added.

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