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Pebble Mine in The Wall Street Journal

Today the proposed Pebble Mine was the subject of an editorial in The Wall Street Journal, strongly opposing the potential threat from the EPA. You can read it here, though it will be behind a paywell for some of you. If it is, try going to Google and searching the title of the article, “The EPA’s Pebble Breaching” and usually a non-paywalled version will pop up that you can read.

The piece begins with background information that most Resourceful Earth readers are probably aware of, that the Pebble Partnership has spent millions of dollars studying the feasibility of a large scale mine, that the mine would bring thousands of high-paying jobs to remote locations in Alaska, and that the U.S. Army Corp. of Engineers is the primary entity involved with permitting, though the EPA can later ‘veto’ the initial decision.

Here’s something regular readers might be less familiar with:

Specifically, the EPA launched a preliminary study of what a mine would do to the Bristol Bay watershed, a spawning ground for sockeye salmon. Our sources say the EPA has never before undertaken such an exercise, for the simple reason that it is impossible to determine the environmental impact of a project before it has been proposed.

But Mrs. Jackson’s EPA is nothing if not creative. The agency invented a hypothetical Pebble mine, with its own engineering standards that industry claims are antiquated and show limited concern for the environment. Voila, the EPA found that its nonexistent mine would harm the watershed. The clear message: Don’t even bother submitting a proposal, because even if it passes Army Corps review, the EPA will kill it.

The problem is that Mrs. Jackson’s study has been roundly ridiculed—not least by the EPA’s own peer-review experts. In a public meeting in August, the 12 peer reviewers lambasted the study for its rushed, “unsatisfactory” and “hypothetical” nature, and for numerous errors. One reviewer, University of Idaho hydrology expert Charles Slaughter, called some of the study’s key parts “pure hogwash.”

The EPA’s response? It may go even further and veto the Pebble mine before the Army Corps does its assessment.

I wasn’t aware that the own peer reviewers selected by the EPA to review their preliminary study had been incredibly disappointed with the outcome. Though the WSJ editorial doesn’t have much information on these criticisms, and they apparently haven’t been publicly released, I was able to dig up some more information via Yahoo! News. Apologies for the long quote:

Dr. John Stednick , a watershed science professor from the University of Colorado, said the draft BBWA report does not achieve a sufficient standard of scientific credibility or completeness for the EPA to consider a regulatory action under the Clean Water Act. “The document ostensibly was used or going to be used to determine if there would be a waiver under the 404c provision of the Clean Water Act,” he said. “And it does not begin to address that, nor can we make a conclusion or an inference whether it does violate the 404c provisions.”

Stednick also said the speed with which the EPA developed the watershed assessment is a concern: “Many comments yesterday were on the timing of the document, and I think it would be advantageous for the credibility of the report for EPA to address it.”

Peer reviewers took exception to the EPA’s risk characterization of various ‘failure’ scenarios at a modern mine developed in southwest Alaska, as well as the draft BBWA report’s attempt to quantify the consequences of such hypothetical failures.

“I was unpersuaded by the statistical probabilities that were assigned to various scenarios, like the possibility of a TSF (tailings storage facility) failure,” said Dr. Charles Slaughter , an adjunct professor at the University of Idaho and expert in watershed management. “You know that was just hogwash.”

Though we cannot rule out the possibility that some of the reviewers were satisfied with the document, I couldn’t find a single positive comment reported on by the media. Perhaps the EPA is scared to release the full comments, because it documents that no one believes that the “watershed report” is sufficient evidence to preemptively veto the proposed mine.

The WSJ concludes:

The EPA’s actions with Pebble are no less stunning and are likely to be economically damaging. The Brattle Group, a consulting firm, estimates that some $220 billion in U.S. investments—resource extraction, farming, energy, manufacturing and more—go through the Corps permitting process. Were the EPA to seize power to wall off entire areas to development—before projects are even proposed—much of that investment would go outside the U.S.

The EPA’s power grab is an insult to the Army Corps and especially to the state of Alaska, which has every reason to evaluate the Pebble project carefully so it doesn’t damage the state’s lucrative fishing and tourism industries.

Under Mrs. Jackson, the EPA has become less a regulator following the law and more an ideological vanguard that will push its limits-to-growth agenda as long and as far as the courts and Congress allow. Watch out in a second Obama term.

Very well said. Is the EPA going to take responsibility if it scares investments in natural resource production out of the country? It doesn’t appear that we will hear much more about the Pebble Mine until November, after the election. Stay tuned.

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