By MARK HAMILTON
(Editor’s note: This is the fifth in a series by Mark Hamilton about the history of the Pebble Project in Alaska.)
EPA had a problem. The agency wanted, desperately, to try a pre-emptive veto on Pebble Mine. But it had no science and it had no time.
How do you proceed when you have no science and have no time? EPA simply did not have the time to go to Bristol Bay, so its scientists decided to search on the web to discover “applicable studies.”
As it turns out the studies were not necessarily in Bristol Bay or even in the United states, or about salmon. They were simply “applicable.”
I hope that is news to you: They did no scientific field work in the mining area.
To portray the Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment as science is a mockery of true science and research. There were several very fine scientists involved, but if your contribution is “what would happen if billions of gallons of toxic materials were poured into a watershed”? You could do a very rigorous assessment of the short term and long-term effects of such a circumstance, without any consideration of, “How did such an outpouring occur”? “what mining process caused those toxins to be in there”?
Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment started with the conclusion; in fact, the initial effort was a review of historic mine failures. Starting research with the conclusion is what one would expect of a freshman research paper.
It gets worse. The mining disaster explored was not even the actual mine that the developer would submit for permit. EPA was specifically told that. Pebble’s John Shively warned EPA officials that it was premature to assume a final mine plan and that reliance on conceptual models that were utilized to assess water rights , or discussed in the Waldrop Report, “…would lead to erroneous conclusions having little relevance to what may actually be submitted …at some future date.”
EPA designed their own mine.
Two more, “you gotta be kidding me” realities: One, in the Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment some possibly guilt-ridden contributor stated, that the mine portrayed did not utilize the best engineering practices. Two, just to be certain they did not accidently design a solid mine, EPA did not use an engineer design. It allowed Phil North, an ecologist and an avowed proponent of the preemptive veto, to design the mine. North probably didn’t use the best engineering practices.
It’s quite a shame that we will never know what other nefarious activities North was involved in; he was unable to reply to freedom of information requests because his computer broke.
After roughly a year of computer searches, EPA submitted their first draft to peer review.
It did not go well. Scientists quickly recognized that it was a conclusion looking for cause. EPA responded to criticism at least the 67 times that can be accounted for with the tried and untrue claim that the Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment would not be used for a regulatory decision.
Of course, that is exactly what they did. Throughout this charade EPA was in meetings and emails and contact with many anti-development groups including the Natural Resource Defense Committee, Trout Unlimited, and others.
This conduct was not unnoticed. The U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Oversight and Government Reform stated: ”EPA employees had inappropriate contact with outside groups and failed to conduct an impartial, fact-based review of the proposed Pebble Mine.”
I have often wondered, “Why did they do this?” Not the collusion, not the bias, those have sadly become what one would expect of EPA. Why did they make the Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment public, subject it to the obvious conclusion that it was pseudo-science?
It was because, as EPA cohorts clearly expressed. “It’s not about science; it’s politics.”
Of course! I’m such a slow learner! The Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment, while presenting no useful science, managed to provide all the sound bites for all the anti-development crowd to be repeated and tweeted and be quoted in opinion pieces for now nearly a decade.
And, of course EPA went ahead with their veto. They did so with a slightly modified document. A part of that modification is worth addressing. Two of the seven chapters of the original were authored by a PhD named Ann Maest. The revision appeared without citation of Dr. Maest, since in the meantime she had pled guilty in Federal Court to having submitted false scientific data opposing an oil project in South America. It’s always so hard to find good help.
You probably won’t read the Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment; I understand that. So, let me tell you all you need to think about. After EPA did their veto, Pebble, a mining company, and a small one, sued a federal agency (EPA) with a budget bigger than eight of our United States, more than 50 times more lawyers on their staff than Pebble had employees. Pebble received a favorable ruling.
Now, how bad do you think this Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment document is to bring that about? And yet, it has been quoted recently by President Biden and (are you ready for this)Tucker Carlson.
Sadly, pebbling cares not about political lines. Two national figures recited a hastily put together piece of propaganda, that featured no field work in the area being evaluated.
I tell you again: Don’t feel bad about being pebbled—just try not to let it happen again.
The “Pebbled” series at Must Read Alaska is authored by Mark Hamilton. After 31 years of service to this nation, Hamilton retired as a Major General with the U. S. Army in July of 1998. He served for 12 years as President of University of Alaska, and is now President Emeritus. He worked for the Pebble Partnership for three years before retiring. The series continues next week.