The EPA may have rigged the permitting process in the Alaskan copper mining project, possibly hand-in-hand with environmentalists, to defeat the Pebble Mine before it even had a chance, a new report by an independent investigator suggests.
“The statements and actions of EPA personnel observed during this review raise serious concerns as to whether EPA orchestrated the process to reach a predetermined outcome; had inappropriately close relationships with anti-mine advocates,” reads a report by former defense secretary William Cohen, who now runs his own consulting firm.
The Pebble Partnership hired Cohen to review the EPA’s decision not to allow the Pebble Mine to seek a permit for mining copper near Alaska’s Bristol Bay. Cohen’s report only looked at the process the EPA used to pre-emptively veto the Pebble Mine. He did not make any conclusions on the EPA’s legal authority to do so or whether or not the mine should even be built.
Cohen found that the EPA’s “unprecedented, preemptive” use of the Clean Water Act to kill the Pebble Mine relied on a hypothetical mining project that “may or may not accurately or fairly represent an actual project.”
The Pebble Partnership has been trying for roughly a decade to build a mine near Alaska’s Bristol Bay, which happens to be the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery. They finally gained some traction in recent years, but were derailed by anti-mining activists and the Obama administration.
The EPA usually relies on an environmental impact study done in conjunction with the Army Corps of Engineers, which also gets input from states, mining companies and environmentalists. But this time, the EPA used Section 404 of the CWA to strike down the mine, effectibely locking states and the Pebble Partnership out of the process.
The EPA released two watershed assessments using hypothetical mining scenarios to see whether or not the Pebble Mine would harm Bristol Bay salmon and the region’s rivers and wetlands. Mine proponents pointed out numerous flaws with the EPA’s analyses, including its reliance on research from activists.
Cohen argued that this process led to a sub-par review of the mine proposal.
“An environmental impact assessment is bound to provide more accurate information if it assumes that the mine will be built in accordance with the developer’s plans, rather than a hypothetical mine plan which even EPA acknowledges is likely to be different from a developer-submitted plan,” Cohen wrote. “This project is too important, for all stakeholders, to pilot a new, untested decision-making process. The fairest approach is to use the well-established Permit/NEPA Process, and I can find no valid reason why that process was not used.”
More importantly, Cohen’s report suggests that EPA colluded with environmentalists to kill the mine before it could even begin the permitting process — though Cohen did not make any firm conclusions on this matter.
“First, any such findings would not affect my overarching conclusion about the process that should have been followed,” Cohen wrote. “Second, the record remains incomplete on these issues.”
“EPA declined my requests to cooperate with this review, so I allow there may be benign explanations for these actions,” he added. “There are also troubling gaps in the documents EPA has produced in response to Freedom of Information Act requests, including those said to be lost as a result of a computer crash and EPA personnel’s use of personal email.”
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