A report by former US Senator and Secretary of Defense William Cohen has drawn attention to possible misconduct by the Environmental Protection Agency in its evaluation of potential mining in south-west Alaska’s Bristol Bay watershed.
The copper-gold-molybdenum porphyry deposit is on state land in the Bristol Bay Region of south-west Alaska, 17 miles north-west of Iliamna community.
Northern Dynasty Minerals’ subsidiary Pebble Partnership, which holds mineral claims in the headwaters of the Nushagak and Kvichak Rivers of the Bristol Bay watershed, has been exploring development of a mine in the region.
However, the EPA vetoed the project under the Clear Water Act. In 2014, it proposed restrictions, claiming that the mining would have ‘unacceptable adverse effect on fishery areas’.
The report says that EPA depended on hypothetical scenarios to reach the conclusions.
The ‘Report of an Independent Review of the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s Actions in Connection With Its Evaluation of Potential Mining In Alaska’s Bristol Bay Watershed’ was compiled by the senator after he was part of an independent review established by the the Pebble Partnership.
The Cohen Group and law firm DLA Piper were also part of the review team.
The team has interviewed around 60 individuals involved with the agency or its review of the project.
Cohen said: "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.
"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."
The report included various points highlighting the agency’s possible misconductthat it pre-determined the outcome of its review prior to conducting the Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment.
Cohen urged the US Congress and the independent Office of the EPA Inspector General to look further into the issues.
Cohen added: "This process, which entails compliance with NEPA and other regulatory requirements, an environmental impact statement (EIS), and input from the EPA, other relevant agencies, and the State of Alaska, will supply the gaps in information which the BBWA left outstanding."
Image: Exploration drill rig at the prospective site of the Pebble Mine. Photo: courtesy of AlaskaTrekker.