Paul Jenkins: EPA tried to fake fairness as it targeted Pebble

Paul Jenkins

Last year, I wrote: "If you thought the Environmental Protection Agency was a power-mad, greenie-driven federal behemoth intent on preemptively blocking development of the Pebble prospect on state land at any cost, well, hang on, it turns out you are not alone."

Well, hang on, it also turns out you would not be wrong.

Seduced by its own omnipotence and green zealotry, the EPA has gone completely off the rails about Pebble. It no longer is concerned with playing fair, or the law or science. It is concerned with getting its way.

Its inspector general's office says it will probe the agency's disturbing February decision to preemptively veto the Pebble mine project -- even before its first mining permit application could reach the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the agency actually charged with evaluating such projects and issuing permits.

The EPA -- with the secondary role of reviewing and possibly blocking, for cause, projects under the Clean Water Act's 404(c) provision -- pretends it is interested in Pebble because it was petitioned by Alaska Natives and fishing interests in 2010 to study the 20,000-square-mile, salmon-rich Bristol Bay watershed, which includes the Nushagak and Kvichak rivers.

It also pretends science drove its conclusion that large-scale mining could cause devastation.

None of that appears even remotely true. The truth is that the precedent-setting move to veto Pebble preemptively sprang from inside the agency, and its year-long "Assessment of Potential Mining Impacts on Salmon Ecosystems of Bristol Bay, Alaska," released in 2012 was a sham.

Many now wonder whether Sen. Mark Begich knew the EPA had gone renegade when he piled on in January with his premature "wrong mine, wrong place, too big" Pebble nonsense.

It is estimated Pebble would produce 80.6 billion pounds of copper, 107.4 million ounces of gold and 5.6 billion pounds of molybdenum. Proponents point to it being an economic boon for the region. Opponents fret it might destroy a world-class salmon fishery. The EPA, one might think, would sort all that out but instead of evaluating, it became an advocate.

Emails show Alaska-based EPA biologist Phillip North, a 20-year mining inspector and ecologist in Anchorage and Kenai, was, as early as 2008 -- long before any science was under way -- advocating his agency whack Pebble with its 404(c) club, that the Clean Water Act's 404 provision had a "major role" with Pebble, the Wall Street Journal reports.

North pushed for a 404(c) action's inclusion on the agenda at an EPA retreat in 2009 and later co-authored the controversial watershed assessment mining scenario rejected by even the agency's peer-review panel, forcing a reassessment of the assessment one review panel member had labeled "hogwash." By early 2010, the Journal reports, agency staff already was listing a "preemptive" veto under "future options" for Pebble in a PowerPoint presentation.

Worse, the Washington Times reports, the EPA "had regular contacts with potential opponents of the mining project, coordinating activities with environmentalists and even coaching local tribes on how they could strengthen their case opposing the project."

"Tribes have a very special role in Pebble issues because of government-to-government relations," North wrote to an Alaska tribal leader in June 2010. "EPA takes that very seriously. I encourage you to develop that relationship as much as you can."

Emails and documents the newspapers obtained indicate the veto was a done deal by mid-2010 -- long before the bogus watershed study.

There also are indications Pebble is prototypical. The Journal reports a September 2010 EPA document lays out the "pros" and "cons" of its vetoing in the "traditional" fashion rather than preemptively. One of many "pros" of a preemptive veto is it could serve as a "model of proactive watershed planning."

In ignoring its duty, the EPA breached the public trust. It is expected to enforce the law, to direct a fair, balanced process to protect the environment based on sound science. It failed on both counts.

Tossing the rules out the window, the EPA lied, colluded with, perhaps even directed, various interests to promote a pre-determined conclusion that could have far-reaching, long-term detrimental effects on mine permitting and investment across the nation.

It turns out the EPA is, indeed, a "power-mad, greenie-driven federal behemoth intent on preemptively blocking development of the Pebble prospect on state land at any cost. ..."

That should infuriate us all.

Paul Jenkins is editor of the

Paul Jenkins