In the results of a yearlong review of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s handling of the proposed Pebble Project, former defense secretary William Cohen says the agency appears to have rushed to judgement when it decided to preemptively block a proposed gold mine from being built near Alaska’s Bristol Bay.
Cohen faulted the EPA’s actions in seeking to stop the controversial Pebble Mine project, saying the agency was “not fair” in its decision to rule out gold mining in the region before the developers had even applied for permits to build the mine.
The Washington Post reported that Cohen’s review was commissioned by the mining company, though the former Pentagon official insisted that he agreed to review the case on the “condition of complete independence,” with no oversight or input from the owners, the Anchorage-based Pebble Partnership.
“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,” Cohen said in a 346-page report.
The report is the latest to challenge the EPA’s use of a rare regulatory “veto” to block the mine, rather than allowing the owners to submit detailed plans for the mine and argue their case before a review board. The EPA’s Inspector General also is investigating the agency’s handling of the matter.
Cohen declined to take a stand on whether the mine should be built. But his report questions the EPA’s decision to short-circuit the normal permitting process. The use of the regulatory “veto” under such circumstances is “unprecedented,” said Cohen, a Republican who served as defense secretary under President Bill Clinton. His report cites a review of thousands of pages of internal documents and interviews with 60 officials and scientists, though the EPA itself declined to participate, Cohen said.
“The fairest and most appropriate process to evaluate possible development in the Pebble Deposit Area would use the established regulatory … process to assess a mine permit application, rather than using an assessment based upon the hypothetical mining scenarios,” the report stated.
EPA spokeswoman Liz Purchia defended the agency’s decision, saying EPA officials had ample information about the proposed gold mine and its possible environmental impacts, and followed an intensive review process.
“No process could have been more transparent and inclusive of all views, including for proponents of the Pebble Mine,” Purchia said.
Puchia said the agency’s use of its veto power was necessary in this instance to protect a “wild and largely undisturbed watershed” that supports thousands of jobs in the region.
The mine’s owners, in a lawsuit, have accused the EPA of violating the 1972 Federal Advisory Committee Act, or FACA, intended to prevent unfair outside influence in government decisions. Company officials cite e-mails and other records suggesting that anti-mine groups were given improper access as regulators were deciding what to do about the mine.