Pebble hires Cohen Group to review EPA actions in Bristol Bay

Mar 24, 2015

Former Defense Secretary William Cohen will weigh in on whether agency's efforts to block Pebble have been fair.

The Pebble Partnership has hired the Cohen Group, founded by former Defense Secretary William Cohen, to independently review the actions of the Environmental Protection Agency in Bristol Bay. KDLG’s Dave Bendinger has more:

William Cohen was President Bill Clinton's Secretary of Defense from 1997-2001.
Credit Paul Morigi/Getty Images

Former Defense Secretary William S. Cohen and his firm, The Cohen Group, have been hired by Pebble Limited Partnership to evaluate the fairness of the Environmental Protection Agency’s recent actions in Bristol Bay.

Pebble alleges the EPA began its involvement in Bristol Bay with the intent of preemptively blocking development. The company says the agency should wait for a formal permit application and Environmental Impact Statement to measure the merits of the potentially massive gold and copper mine.

William Cohen, a Republican, served as Defense Secretary under President Bill Clinton from 1997-2001. Prior to that post, Cohen spent 18 years in the US Senate, and six years in the US House of Representatives. He founded the Cohen Group in 2001, which "assists multinational clients from all sectors to pursue business opportunities and overcome problems in quickly changing markets around the world.”

“We’ve long held that the EPA’s actions are inappropriate against Pebble, and really felt that a thorough, independent review by a credentialed group out of Washington D.C. would be helpful in determining whether or not the EPA has acted fair in their preemptive attempt to shut the project down,” said Mike Heatwole, a spokesperson for Pebble.

Also looking into the EPA’s actions related to the Bristol Bay watershed include the agency’s Office of Inspector General, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Pebble itself has also requested more agency documents under the Freedom of Information Act and has filed several lawsuits in federal court.

“Secretary Cohen will evaluate the fairness of EPA's actions and decisions in this matter based upon a thorough assessment of the facts and informed by his experience,” the Cohen Group wrote in an email. “He will have full discretion as to the means and manner of carrying out this review to ensure that it is thorough and unbiased.”

Those who have welcomed the EPA’s involvement in blocking Pebble’s development are not impressed.

“Here we go again,” said Alannah Hurley, the Executive Director of the United Tribes of Bristol Bay. “This is more of the same desperate PR-stunt, a bought-and-paid-for review, from a company who has lost on the science, who has lost on the truth, who has lost on public opinion.”

Cohen said he accepted this assignment only on the condition that he has “complete independence and discretion” as to how it is conducted.

"I have agreed to undertake this effort after reviewing a wide range of available documents, including those produced in response to FOIA requests, that persuaded me that legitimate questions exist which merit an in-depth, independent review,” he wrote in a statement.

Cohen offered no timeline for completing his effort , but said he will reach out to interested stakeholders in order to “carefully consider all points of view.”

Contact the author at dave@kdlg.org, or at 907.842.2200.