Typically, the EPA reviews proposed mining projects once the company behind the venture submits a permit application—this gives the project time to ensure that its environmental plans have been thoroughly developed. But in the case of the proposed billion-dollar Pebble mine in Bristol Bay, Alaska, the EPA bowed to activists and issued a final report on the environmental impact of the project before a permit application was submitted.

So why is this a big deal?  This action – issuing an environmental group-solicited preemptive attack on a potential resource extraction site – illustrates a dangerous new precedent from the EPA. It shows that the agency is now willing to break from the traditional permitting process (which has ensured environmental safeguards are taken while offering project investors stability and due process) in order to kill projects before a permit application is even submitted.

Many worry that such preemptive reports could be used as a basis to prematurely veto future economic opportunities in the region because potential investors would recognize that the EPA is already committed to preventing development no matter how thorough the permit application is. Alaska’s Senior U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski, 10 of 12 Alaska Native Regional Corporations, and numerous other experts and concerned individuals share this view.

Here are just a few of the major flaws with the EPA’s report:

  • The EPA’s report was intended to be scientific, but the report used anti-mining organizations like Earthworks as peer-reviewers, a clear violation of the independence that typifies the scientific peer-review process.
  • The EPA used an outdated model of a mine that would never be permitted today strawmanning the state-of-the-art Pebble plan.
  • The agency failed to provide adequate time for public comment, scheduling the comment period during the time when most affected Alaskans were participating in the hunting season that sustains them through the winter months. 

The EPA’s action was applauded by environmental activists who pushed the agency to kill the project. They’ve gotten their wish–following the draft report, Pebble’s lead developers Anglo American withdrew their 50% stake in the project and partner Rio Tinto revealed that they were also considering leaving the project.

Located in the economically disadvantaged region of Southwest Alaska, Pebble Mine would have offered 3,000 short-term jobs and more than 1,000 well-paying, long-term careers to a region where such prospects rarely exist. Unemployment in the area ventures well into the double-digits outside of the hunting season, while the population in Bristol Bay has declined 23 percent from 2000 to 2009 and school enrollment has fallen by 55 percent from 1997 to 2010.

The EPA is confusing the traditional permitting process by preemptively issuing a de facto ban of potential resource extraction – an act that will likely be used to ward off potential investors in the state. Such a move sets a dangerous new precedent from the EPA and suggests that it is more concerned with pleasing its friends in the environmental movement than fulfilling its congressional mandate as a scientific agency responsive to the public interest.