EPA didn't respect the rules when shutting down Pebble: report

Bristol Bay is one of the world's richest salmon runs. Image published by Emma Forsberg under Creative Commons license.

The Environmental Protection Agency didn't respect proper permitting procedures and relied on hypotheticals when preventing the mine from proceeding after invoking section 404(c) last year, concludes a report released today.

Development of the Pebble Bay Mine has been stymied due to worries that the tailings impoundment could damage the local fishery.

Former Defence Secretary William S. Cohen, which was hired by Pebble Partnership, released his study today. He worried that EPA's actions could make future mine development potentially prohibitive.

"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 [Bristol Bay Watershed] as the basis for imposing potentially prohibitive restrictions on future mines," write Cohen in his conclusion.

Enviromental groups pushed back against Cohen's findings.

"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," writes Taryn Kiekow on the NRDC's site.

She says the report doesn't 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.

When the EPA issued its ruling in July 2014, it justified using the rarely invoked 404(c) ". . . to protect one of the world’s most valuable salmon fisheries, in Bristol Bay, Alaska, from the risks posed by large-scale mining at the Pebble deposit."

"Science has shown that development of this mine, which is backed by Northern Dynasty Minerals and the Pebble Limited Partnership, would be one of the largest open pit copper mines in the world and would threaten one of the world’s most productive salmon fisheries," said the EPA in a news release.

Section 404(c) authority has only been exercised thirteen times in the forty plus year history of the Clean Water Act, notes Science, Law and Environment.

Cohen's full report below:

Download (PDF, 227KB)