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No Surprises in Pebble's 'Expert' Testimony Against EPA

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The August 16, 2012 "Pebble Update" from the Pebble Partnership summarizes testimony they consider most persuasive in discrediting the U.S. EPA's Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment process. It's a pretty predictable but surprisingly weak effort given the ties of these "experts" to the Pebble project and the mining industry. There is no getting around the fact that, if left to them to decide, the Pebble Mine will be permitted. Mining is what they do, and confident assurances about protecting the region's invaluable wild salmon fishery are what must be said to get there.

Here's the list:

Steven Borell is the former Executive Director of the Alaska Miners Association (a mining industry trade group that promotes mining) and a long-time booster of the Pebble project. Not exactly an objective source, but his comments here are notable for his assertion that the hypothetical mine on which EPA bases its assessment "could not be permitted under existing state of Alaska and federal law requirements."

True or not, his comment is a red herring. EPA's Watershed Assessment process isn't about whether this mine - or any mine - can be permitted. EPA wants to understand the impacts of large-scale mining in general in the Bristol Bay watershed, and its approach is reasonable and unquestionably legal under the Clean Water Act. Borell's objection to EPA's use of a hypothetical mine perhaps reflects his more serious worry -- that EPA's independent assessment could complicate permitting of the very real and very dangerous Pebble Mine (or any other large-scale mine eventually proposed in the region).

The McDowell Group is a research and consulting firm that claims EPA's economic analysis "serves better to confuse than inform." A quick look at its client list shows significant representation of the mining industry and, most relevant here, "Northern Dynasty Mines." Northern Dynasty Minerals is the Canadian-based company whose principal asset is 50 percent of the Pebble Mine project -- the company whose share price has plummeted precipitously since EPA's independent assessment process began.

Matthew A. Cronin, Ph.D., is a research associate professor of animal genetics at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and he is prominently cited by the Pebble Partners for his legal opinion. Dr. Cronin "call[s] into question EPA's legal authority to conduct its draft Bristol Bay watershed assessment," concluding that the "draft assessment is an ill-conceived and unconstitutional document that should be retracted." Since Dr. Cronin isn't a lawyer, his view on this point has doubtful value to the Pebble Partners' legal challenge. Indeed, under well-established congressional authority, their claim is plainly frivolous.

Finally, although the foreign-based Pebble Partners are no friend of voices outside Alaska (except, of course, their own), they have apparently decided to make an exception for the Sacramento-based Pacific Legal Foundation "PLF"), the ubiquitous corporate advocate against government regulation of mining. There is nothing surprising in PLF's view that EPA's assessment is "insufficient" to justify protection of the Bristol Bay wild salmon fishery from large-scale mining - except perhaps that it has chosen to comment at all. Its presence is yet another indication of the increasing national profile of the Pebble Mine.

None of these "experts" can credibly challenge the broad-based show of support for EPA's independent Watershed Assessment -- and the overwhelming regional opposition to the Pebble Mine. EPA should move forward promptly, upon completion of the peer-review process, to protect the Bristol Bay watershed, its communities, and the irreplaceable wild salmon fishery that sustains them.

Take action now to stop the Pebble Mine.

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