The Pebble Partnership and the Demeaning of Independence

03/27/2015 06:42 pm ET | Updated May 27, 2015

Leave it to the flailing Pebble Partnership -- now consisting of just one under-funded Canadian company -- to conclude that the only truly "independent" review of its uniquely reckless Pebble Mine is an "independent" review that is bought and paid for by . . . The Pebble Partnership.

Pebble and its Beltway-based CEO announced this week the hiring of two Washington, D.C. consulting firms to "conduct an independent review" of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's ("EPA") work on the proposed mine. According to former Defense Secretary William Cohen, principal of the Cohen Group, the "independent" review being undertaken by his firm and the DC law firm DLA Piper will "focus on the fairness of EPA's actions" and "will follow the evidence wherever it might lead . . . as fairly and thoroughly as possible."

Never mind that Mr. Cohen has been hired by the very company whose economic existence depends on building the Pebble Mine.


Never mind that Mr. Cohen has been hired by the very company that has attacked EPA relentlessly for years, claiming that its Pebble Mine project has been illegally and unfairly targeted by EPA.

Never mind that the residents of Bristol Bay have overwhelmingly opposed the Pebble Mine and supported EPA's involvement to an unprecedented degree, because the mine, if constructed, threatens to contaminate and ultimately destroy the incomparable Bristol Bay wild salmon fishery -- the economic, cultural, and subsistence life-blood of the region, its communities, and its people.

After a four-year, twice peer-reviewed comprehensive scientific risk assessment of the potential impacts on the Bristol Bay watershed from large-scale mining like the Pebble Mine, EPA found "significant" and potentially "catastrophic" impacts on the region -- and on its $1.5 billion salmon fishery and the 14,000 jobs that it generates.

This was, of course, bad news for The Pebble Partnership, but it was neither illegal nor unfair. In stark contrast to The Pebble Partnership's penchant for high-priced DC lobbyists and lawyers, it reflects our constitutional democracy at its best.

Congress gave EPA the clear legal authority over 40 years ago under the Clean Water Act, and the public record shows that scientific review, public participation, and opportunities for stakeholder input (including time and again by The Pebble Partnership) in EPA's process were extensive and pervasive. By the time the process had run its course, the agency had received over 1.5 million comments, with an astounding 95 percent supporting EPA's review.

For years, EPA has taken plenty of heat from The Pebble Partnership and from the company's mining industry boosters in Congress, who launched their own investigation and requested that EPA's Inspector General do the same. With no disrespect intended to Mr. Cohen or his firm, there is absolutely nothing credible to be gained from yet-another Pebble -sponsored "independent" review. If Pebble doesn't like EPA's process or the ultimate outcome of that process, it has a right to file an appeal in court, but that review, too, is unlikely to meet Pebble's nonsensical and uniquely self-serving definition of "independence."

"Here we go again," said Alannah Hurley, the Executive Director of United Tribes of Bristol Bay. "This is more of the same desperate PR-stunt, a bought-and-paid-for review, from a company who has lost on the science, who has lost on the truth, who has lost on public opinion."

Sadly, The Pebble Partnership isn't listening. It is hoping that its latest high-priced Beltway consultants can engineer an end-run around the science, the law, and the will of the people of Alaska.

Stop the Pebble Mine. Take action again -- now.