Majority Provides Pebble Mining Company with Public Platform to Criticize EPA
(Washington, DC) – Today, the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology held a hearing the Majority titled, “Examining EPA’s Predetermined Efforts to Block the Pebble Mine.” The hearing was used to provide a platform for the Canadian company Pebble Limited Partnership (PLP) to levy accusations against the Environmental Protection Agency and its use of Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act last year to restrict development of the company’s proposed Pebble Mine. Pebble Mine would be one of the world’s largest open pit copper mines constructed in the heart of Bristol Bay, Alaska. Bristol Bay is widely considered one of the most pristine watersheds in the country.
Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) said in her statement, “It is disheartening to me that today’s hearing is largely a platform for the Pebble Partnership to air their grievances with the EPA. Three of today’s four witnesses either work for Pebble or have been paid by Pebble to issue a quote – ‘independent’ report regarding EPA’s actions concerning the proposed Pebble Mine.”
These witnesses included Tom Collier, CEO of the Pebble Limited Partnership, and two of the key participants in the preparation of the report paid for by Pebble, William S. Cohen, former Secretary of Defense and Republican Senator from Maine, who heads The Cohen Group, and Mr. Charles Scheeler, Senior Counsel at the DLA Piper law firm which has a “strong strategic partnership” with The Cohen Group.
The Democratic witness was Mr. Rick Halford who has lived in Alaska for 50 years and served in the Alaska Legislature for 25 years. Mr. Halford is a conservative Republican who served as Senate President and Majority Leader and has supported mining in the past. He now believes, however, that the proposed Pebble Mine in the midst of the Bristol Bay watershed is a tremendously bad idea. He also rebuffed allegations by the Pebble CEO, Tom Collier, who claimed that there was “collusion” between EPA officials and environmental groups which focused on a “predetermined” decision to use the 404(c) process to prevent the Pebble Mine from moving forward. “The truth,” said Halford, “is EPA listened to the people of Bristol Bay and responded by preparing the most objective assessment of the potential impacts of a massive sulfide mine in this particular location. If there’s any unfairness in this discussion, it was produced by Pebble. For years they have tried to manufacture consent for their project. Their obvious efforts to manufacture that consent collapsed under the weight of facts and growing public opposition.”
Democratic Members also highlighted some of the troubling tactics the Pebble Partnership has used in an attempt to silence critics of their proposed mine. As part of their litigation strategy in a lawsuit against the EPA the company’s attorneys at Steptoe & Johnson, where Pebble’s CEO is listed as a Senior Counselor, have issued or intend to issue 72 subpoenas against non-EPA third parties who have opposed the proposed Pebble Mine, including the Universities of Alaska, Washington, and Oregon State; Tiffany & Co. jewelers; and Pew Charitable Trusts. In one recent deposition by Sue Aspelund, Executive Director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association (BBRSDA), who provided testimony in response to a Pebble subpoena just six weeks ago, said: “The extreme burden and costs of these wide-open subpoenas has an immediate chilling effect on many of the underfunded non-profits and modest individuals who will be impacted by PLP’s subpoenas…. This subpoena has the effect of limiting our communications with other Americans and non-profits about matters of public importance because of the fear that such otherwise confidential communications will be forced to be disclosed." The Cohen Report also conveniently suggested in its conclusion that those with subpoena power in Congress should use it to further examine the EPA actions, a point Mr. Cohen reiterated in his testimony.
Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA) also asked the DLA Piper witness, Mr. Scheeler, about recently revealed information that a DLA Piper partner in Vancouver, British Columbia, was involved in facilitating the transfer of nearly $3 million in stock options of Pebble’s parent company Northern Dynasty to a mysterious business entity established the following day, according to publicly available records. Mr. Scheeler said he only learned of this transaction yesterday and that it had no bearing on the “independence” of his report. Still, Mr. Takano pointed out, this transaction occurred less than six weeks before the release of The Cohen Report’s “independent review,” raising concerns about potential conflicts- of-interest and the report’s independence.
Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) highlighted a letter sent to Mr. Cohen from the Assistant Attorney General at the Department of Justice in April, criticizing the investigation of the Cohen Group. The letter said, in part:
“The federal courts provide the appropriate forum for resolving Pebble’s allegations against EPA. As you are aware, this matter is in litigation in three separate lawsuits filed by Pebble against EPA in connection with EPA’s assessment of the potential environmental effects of Pebble’s proposed mine activities.” The letter continued, “Your ‘review’ obviously overlaps with the pending litigation.” The letter went on to say that Pebble sought a preliminary injunction regarding Section 404(c) activities purportedly, the letter said, “so that it could maintain its legal rights and the status quo, not so that it could launch its own private investigation in the EPA’s actions. Pebble is attempting to obtain government information relating to its pending claims against the United States outside of the normal discovery context,” the letter concluded.
The Democratic witness, Mr. Halford, was also critical of the legacy of environmental damage that the Pebble Partnership has already left in the region by drilling more than 1,300 exploratory drill holes and failing to properly remediate these sites. He said that Pebble should “clean up their mess,” but instead they are spending their dwindling financial resources on lawyers and lobbyists. Mr. Halford also said that the Pebble Partnership has delayed filing for a permit application for their proposed mine for more than one decade because “they’re only waiting for the right political climate,” he said. “Right now Pebble chooses to spend its remaining money on lobbyists, lawyers and public relations firms while continuing to ignore the will of the local people. The people of Bristol Bay overwhelming thank the EPA and we encourage you to let them do their job," said Halford.
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