Was EPA too cozy with anti-Pebble Mine advocates while evaluating the potential environmental impacts of a proposed gold mine in the Bristol Bay watershed?
Former Defense Secretary William Cohen of The Cohen Group in Washington, D.C., thinks so. In a report released today (Oct. 6), he calls on Congress and the Environmental Protection Agency "to continue to explore these questions which might further illuminate EPA’s motives and better determine whether EPA has met its core obligations of government service and accountability."
"The statements and actions of EPA personnel observed during this review raise serious concerns as to whether EPA orchestrated the process to a predetermined outcome; had inappropriately close relationships with anti-mine advocates; and was candid about its decisionmaking process," Cohen said.
But he said he didn't try "to reach conclusions on these issues."
The Natural Resources Defense Council's Taryn Kiekow Heimer said of the report in "Pebble Mine's Mouthpiece", "There's nothing new here except for the fact that William Cohen has now been added to the company's list of paid consultants." In his report, the former defense secretary says,
- EPA failed to address important considerations that would be included in the NEPA/Permit Process, including meaningful participation by other state and federal government agencies, mitigation and controls as proposed by the developer, and an array of public interest factors;
- The Permit/NEPA Process has been used for decades and has been widely endorsed
by environmental groups;
- EPA relied upon the BBWA in its Proposed Determination but acknowledged that there were significant gaps in its assessment and that it was not designed to duplicate or replace the Permit/NEPA Process; and
- EPA’s unprecedented, preemptive use of Section 404(c) inhibited the involvement of two key participants: the Corps and the State of Alaska.
"These observations have informed my conclusion that that EPA’s application of Section 404(c) prior to the filing of a permit application was not fair to all stakeholders," he continued, finding that:
The fairest and most appropriate process to evaluate possible development in the Pebble Deposit Area would use the
established regulatory Permit/NEPA Process to assess a mine permit application, rather than using an assessment based upon the hypothetical mining scenarios described in the BBWA as the basis for imposing potentially prohibitive restrictions on future mines.
"We made letter requests to more than 200 stakeholders who hold diverse views about EPA’s actions to invite them to provide information and share their views. I had no subpoena power nor any other method of compelling participation. Nevertheless, more than 60 individuals responded to my invitations and voluntarily spoke with me or members of my team. These individuals represented constituencies that publicly have expressed supporting, opposing, and neutral views about a potential Pebble mine. These interviews included those of current and former Alaska government representatives, including from the Alaska Department of Natural Resources (“ADNR”); former federal agency personnel, including from the Corps; representatives from Alaska Native tribes and Alaska Native organizations in the Bristol Bay area; former Congressional aides; scientists, including experts who publicly expressed views against a potential Pebble mine; peer reviewers of the BBWA [EPA's report, "An Assessment of Potential Mining Impacts on Salmon Ecosystems of Bristol Bay, Alaska”] and of scientific papers cited in that assessment; engineering and environmental consultants; representatives of the Pebble Partnership, Northern Dynasty, and Hunter Dickinson; and a former investor in the Pebble project."