Pebble Mine's Mouthpiece

It's no surprise that the not-so "independent" report released today by the Cohen Group--and paid for by the Pebble Partnership--parrots Pebble's talking points about the "unfairness" of EPA, which issued a preliminary determination that, if adopted, would restrict the proposed Pebble Mine.

Pebble is a massive gold and copper mine proposed at the headwaters of the world's greatest wild salmon fishery in Bristol Bay, Alaska. Because of its scale and sensitive location, Pebble Mine is opposed in overwhelming numbers by Bristol Bay residents, commercial fishermen, sports fishermen, and Alaska Natives--all of whom depend on the salmon for their lives and livelihoods. (The Bristol Bay commercial fishery alone generates $1.5 billion in annual revenue and 14,000 jobs.)

What is surprising is that the report is getting media attention. After all, it simply echoes what the Pebble Partnership has been saying for years: that EPA's actions were "not fair to all stakeholders" and that the agency should have withheld judgment until the Pebble Partnership submitted permits. "Stop the presses!"

There's nothing new here except for the fact that William Cohen has now been added to the company's list of paid consultants.

Notably, the report does NOT conclude that EPA lacks the legal authority to issue a preemptive determination under Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act to protect a resource like Bristol Bay. It does. Under Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act, Congress gave EPA the explicit authority to prohibit, restrict, deny or withdraw authorization for projects discharging dredged or fill material into waters of the U.S. "whenever" the agency finds "an unacceptable adverse effect on municipal water supplies, shellfish beds and fishery areas (including spawning and breeding areas), wildlife, or recreational areas." The key language is "whenever"--before, during, or after the permitting process.

Nor does the report conclude that EPA's twice-peer reviewed scientific assessment somehow lacked public participation. It did. EPA conducted a scientific study of the effects of large-scale mining like the Pebble Mine on Bristol Bay, which included three years of data review and scientific analysis, two rounds of peer review by 12 independent scientists, and engaging the local and broader public. Far from shutting out stakeholders, EPA conducted three rounds of open, public comment - which included Pebble's vigorous participation and generated close to two million comments, of which the overwhelming majority (98% from Bristol Bay alone) asked the agency to stop Pebble Mine.

Rather, the report objects to EPA's preemptive use of its 404(c) authority instead of waiting for the permit process under National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

Never mind that Pebble has not yet applied for permits, even after promising to do since 2004. Never mind that these years of waiting have resulted--in the words of Senator Lisa Murkowski--in "anxiety, frustration, and confusion" in nearby communities. Never mind that it was Pebble's failure to apply for permits that created the reason Bristol Bay tribes, commercial and sports fishermen asked EPA to exercise its 404(c) authority in the first place. And never mind that EPA issued preliminary restrictions under Section 404(c) in order to protect--in the words of President Obama--"one of America's greatest natural resources and a massive economic engine, not only for Alaska but for America."

The report reads like an extended Pebble press release and that's exactly how the public--and EPA--should treat it.