The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) gave special treatment to groups that wanted to block a massive copper and gold mine in Alaska, according to a new report.
The Tuesday report was commissioned by the Pebble Partnership, which is trying to develop the Pebble Mine in southwest Alaska.
The findings add to claims by Pebble and other supporters of the mine that the EPA acted improperly when it found last year that the proposed mine would hurt local waterways and wildlife in unacceptable ways.
“The decision about whether to build a mine in this area, as well as the process used to make such a decision, is very important to Alaska’s environment, economy, people, fish and wildlife,” Cohen said in a statement about his report.
“It requires regulatory authority to be exercised in the fairest way possible. After a very thorough review, I do not believe EPA used the fairest and most appropriate process,” he said.
EPA spokeswoman Melissa Harrison defended the agency’s process.
“EPA staff spent three years evaluating science, conducting hearings and reviewing one million public comments in developing the Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment,” she said.
“That process included two independent peer reviews and a robust public outreach process in which Pebble Partnership readily participated,” Harrison continued. “No process could have been more transparent and inclusive of all views, including for proponents of the Pebble Mine.”
The Pebble Mine has taken on outsized importance in recent years. The EPA moved toward blocking it last year, agreeing with Democrats, environmentalists and Alaska Native groups that it would be too harmful.
But Republicans and the mine’s supporters charge that the EPA exceeded its authority by blocking the project before it even applied for the necessary permits. Furthermore, the mine’s developer says EPA’s analysis overestimated the environmental harms.
Cohen said the EPA’s decision to preemptively block Pebble’s permit is highly unusual. Instead, the EPA usually makes such determinations through the National Environmental Policy Act, allowing a wider range of input from all stakeholders.
“I can find no valid reason why the NEPA process was not used,” he said.
The project now stands in limbo. A federal judge blocked the EPA from making a final determination while he considers whether mine opponents held improper influence over the process.
But Pebble has also lost a large portion of its investors in the project, calling into question whether it can move toward applying for permits.