Report on EPA review of Pebble Mine lacks basis in fact, human decency

Bought-and-paid for report lacks facts, ethics and morality
yupik fishing village
A Yupik fishing village in Bristol Bay (photo: Pat Clayton).

Yesterday, The Cohen Group, which the Pebble Limited Partnership (PLP) and its supporters are lauding as an independent review firm, released a report that sharply criticized as unfair the EPA's process which led to a preliminary ruling that, if finalized, would prevent the so-called partnership — which now only contains Canadian firm Northern Dynasty Minerals, as all other former partner firms have long divested and distanced themselves from the ill-conceived project — from ever building the Pebble Mine.

The Cohen Group report — which was commissioned and paid for by Pebble Limited Partnership — contains conclusions which are based almost entirely on the idea that the EPA repeatedly made hypothetical assumptions about the how mine development would take place, rather than basing its evaluation and review on filed permit applications which are required to contain hordes of technical details on planned mine construction and operation.

According to Cohen, "The fairest and most appropriate process to evaluate possible development in the Pebble Deposit Area would use the established regulatory Permit/NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) Process to assess a mine permit application, rather than using an assessment based upon the hypothetical mining scenarios described in the BBWA (Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment) as the basis for imposing potentially prohibitive restrictions on future mines".

Sounds reasonable, right?

Sure does, until you consider that said permit applications don't exist. They don't exist because PLP has, over the course of more than a decade, repeatedly refused to file for such permits. Opponents of the mine have repeatedly requested that the PLP apply for mining permits, but the partnership has failed or refused to do so. Even conservative Alaskan senator Lisa Murkowski, who has long been a regarded as a supporter of the partnership, urged the PLP in 2013 to apply for permits — stating that "for nearly a decade, Alaskans have been told these actions were imminent" and that the PLP's failure to file for permits had left Alaskan communities in a state of "anxiety, frustration and confusion" — but to no avail. Cohen's report, therefore, bases its conclusion of unfairness on conditions its client is solely responsible for.

The report and its paper-thin conclusions, which numerous groups and organizations immediately outed as lacking any basis and fact and being entirely bought-and-paid-for by PLP, expose the willingness of The Cohen Group to produce blatant propaganda on behalf of its clients, with total disregard for the potential consequences and harm its actions could have on the thousands of Alaskan citizens that depend on Bristol Bay's fisheries for their livelihoods.

Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay, issued a statement calling the report "nothing more than a smear tactic attempting to distract and mislead the public and decision makers from the threats posed by the Pebble mine and fact that the majority of Bristol Bay residents, stakeholders and Alaskans are overwhelmingly opposed to the project."

Trout Unlimited said the report "ignores science" and "fails to address actual facts". Nelli Williams, director of Trout Unlimited's Alaska Program, added that the "Pebble Limited Partnership has once again chosen to spend its money on costly lawsuits and high-paid Washington, D.C. insiders instead of following through on more than a decade of promises made to the people of Bristol Bay to apply for permits. Alaskans have every right to be disgusted at yet another Pebble-funded attempt to discredit the legal, thorough and transparent process enacted to protect a unique and valuable Alaskan salmon watershed from what would be the world’s largest open-pit mine.”

Trout Unlimited's statement also noted that "during the resulting EPA process, 20,000 Alaskans weighed in to support the proposal to protect the region from dangerous mining and ultimately 99 percent of the 670,000-plus comments were in favor of protections and opposed to the development of Pebble mine. Americans have repeatedly stood with the tribal members of the region and made it clear they do not want to put the irreplaceable salmon resources of Bristol Bay at risk for a short-term mine."

The United Tribes of Bristol Bay was also sharply critical of the report, stating that "when Pebble came to Bristol Bay over a decade ago, it promised to be a good neighbor. It also promised that the company would not stay if it was unwelcome. Now, years later, Pebble has broken every promise made to the local residents and other concerned Alaskans.t is now spending money on high-paid consultants and lawsuits to harass and intimidate Bristol Bay’s people for simply trying to protect our cultures, communities, livelihoods, and salmon as a critical national resource."

The report also fails to address the fact that the process undertaken by the EPA in evaluating the proposed Pebble Mine was based on well documented, known facts and technological aspects of open-pit mine development and has been widely described as one of the most transparent, highly peer-reviewed, inclusive scientific review processes ever undertaken by the agency. Nor does it address the fact that the EPA has full legal authority to preemptively block developments such as Pebble. In other words, it isn't required to wait for PLP to file, apply, release or do anything whatsoever if it feels it is necessary to do otherwise to protect the public's best interest — a power granted to the EPA via section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act.

The Cohen Group is a D.C. consulting and commercial diplomacy firm that is staffed mostly by former cabinet members, high-ranking military officials and diplomats. The firm is widely described as "global influence peddlers" and focuses mainly on consultations which help American corporations expand their operations overseas, taking American tax dollars and jobs with them. The group's founder, former U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen has been criticized as the "worst Defense Secretary in U.S. history," based on claims that he ignored the safety of servicemen and destroyed troop morale during his tenure.

What may be most shocking about the group's flimsy report is the amount of media attention it is receiving, under the guise of a legitimate, independent analysis — making attention such as this, which outs The Cohen's Group report for what it is, necessary.