Wash. Times Hides Conflict Of Interest In Cohen Report Attacking EPA Over Pebble Mine

Company Behind Proposed Mine Funded Report That Criticizes EPA's Move To Protect Bristol Bay

The Washington Times touted a report attacking the process the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) used to develop proposed restrictions on environmentally-destructive mining in Alaska's Bristol Bay, without disclosing that the report was funded by the company that wants to build the mine.

The EPA has invoked Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act to protect Alaska's ecologically sensitive Bristol Bay region, home to the world's largest sockeye salmon fishery, from the possible “catastrophic” impacts of a proposed gold and copper mine. Pebble Limited Partnership, the company that has been seeking approval to construct a mine in the region, commissioned former defense secretary William Cohen's firm to author a report on whether or not EPA acted “fairly” in its evaluation of potential mining in the Bristol Bay watershed.

Rather than note that the study was funded by a company with a vested interest in the outcome, The Washington Times simply stated that the report was conducted “by Mr. Cohen, who was in Democratic President Clinton's cabinet.” The Washington Times also did not mention that Cohen was a Republican member of both the House and Senate before joining the Clinton administration.

In addition to having a financial conflict of interest, the Cohen report did not make meaningfully different claims than the Pebble Limited Partnership had already made itself, and was nowhere near as accurate, comprehensive, or transparent as the EPA's own methodical scientific review.

From the November 6 article in The Washington Times:

At the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology hearing, Republicans took aim at the EPA's objectivity in assessing the project, producing a cache of emails from EPA staffers obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests.


Former Defense Secretary William Cohen, author of an Oct. 6 report critical of the process, pointed out that the project lies on state land designated for mining, not federal land.

“The notion that the EPA can make you file something that you're not ready to file, and over the objections of the state of Alaska, is, it seems to me, that's quite a stretch for EPA's power,” Mr. Cohen said.

The report by Mr. Cohen, who was in Democratic President Clinton's cabinet, concluded that the EPA had acted unfairly by using the less comprehensive 404(c) authority instead of evaluating a permit application under the National Environmental Policy Act.

“EPA's unprecedented, preemptive use of Section 404(c) before a permit filing, in my judgment, exacerbated the shortcomings of the Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment and inhibited the involvement of two key participants -- the Army Corps of Engineers and the State of Alaska,” Mr. Cohen said in his testimony.

His findings were echoed in a report released Wednesday by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which accused the EPA of exercising a “preemptive veto” against the mine by undertaking a rarely used 404(c) review.

The report cites a 2010 email in which Mr. Hough, an environmental scientist in the EPA's wetlands division, says that, “we have never gone down the route of a 'preemptive' 404(c) action before.”