The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The Koch brothers take on enviro groups over mine

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As the Environmental Protection Agency seeks public comment on how to gauge the environmental impact of a proposed gold and copper mine in the Bristol Bay watershed, hundreds of thousands of Americans have weighed in on one side or another.

Almost all the mass e-mail comments urging the EPA to refrain from blocking the project -- 99.25 percent, to be exact -- come from a project established by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a libertarian group that accepts money from mining companies as well as the conservative Koch brothers. Resourceful Earth, the CEI project, accounts for 117,401 out of 118,294 mass e-mail comments suggesting EPA should stay out of the matter.

Meanwhile, almost all the comments urging the EPA to block the mine have been generated by major environmental groups. Their efforts have resulted in three times as many mass e-mail comments -- 306,198 so far -- which argue that the EPA should invoke a rarely-used authority under the Clean Water Act to block the proposed Pebble Mine, on the grounds that it could imperil the region's vibrant sockeye salmon fishery. The Natural Resources Defense Council produced 83,095 comments, more than any other group in favor of EPA action, while the Pew Charitable Trusts came in second with 41,158 comments.

Myron Ebell, who heads Resourceful Earth for CEI, said his group decided to launch the initiative in 2010 after it noticed "every natural resource project was attracting at least one national campaign" against it.

"The problem is we’ve never been able to attract enough funding to compete with any of the major environmental groups," said Ebell, who directs energy and global warming policy at CEI. "It’s an effort, but it’s a pretty small one."

Ebell did not disclose the identities of Resourceful Earth's donors, but said, "In general there are natural resource companies that have given modest amounts of money. We would like them to give more generously so we can compete more effectively with the major environmental groups."

Resourceful Earth generated the comments through its e-mail mailing list and some Web advertising, he added. "You go to the Web site and the comment is there for you to adapt as you see fit."

While the comments the group generated vary, they all suggest the EPA does not need to intervene in the plans Northern Dynasty and Anglo American are pursuing to mine Alaska's resources near Bristol Bay.

"I am writing to voice my strong opposition to the EPA’s draft watershed assessment for the vast Bristol Bay region of Alaska because it sets a dangerous precedent, is wholly unnecessary, and relies on dubious source material from biased anti-mining organizations and scientists that recently admitted to falsifying reports submitted in legal proceedings," reads one comment.

CEI has accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past three decades from three foundations affiliated with Charles G. Koch and David H. Koch, whose Koch Industries invests in the oil, mineral, chemical and manufacturing sectors along with other areas. These groups include the David Koch Charitable Foundation, the Charles R. Lambe Charitable Foundation and the Charles Koch Charitable Foundation.