Arguments in a case alleging that U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials worked with critics of the Pebble Mine in Alaska with a predetermined goal of blocking the mine were scheduled to be heard by a federal judge on May 28.
The Pebble Limited Partnership, which is seeking to advance the project near the headwaters of a world-premier salmon fishery in Alaska brought the lawsuit. Pebble alleges that the EPA violated a federal law by establishing and working with groups of mine critics that essentially acted as advisory committees but failed to comply with requirements of that law, such as noticing meetings or making available transcripts.
But the EPA in court records says Pebble’s lawsuit fails to mention the “countless contacts” Pebble had with the EPA, and it sees the case as a bid to undermine the agency’s proposal to protect parts of the Bristol Bay region from development. It wants the case dismissed, The Associated Press reported.
The EPA released a report last year concluding that large-scale mining in the Bristol Bay watershed posed significant risk to salmon and could adversely affect Alaska Natives in the region, whose culture is built around salmon. The agency later initiated a rarely used process through which it ultimately could restrict or prohibit development of the massive gold and copper prospect, which Pebble blasted as an overreach.
U.S. District Court Judge H. Russel Holland in December ordered the EPA to stop all work related to that process pending a ruling on the merits of the case.
Pebble spokesman Mike Heatwole said that what Pebble wants is an opportunity to have the project “fairly and objectively analyzed” through the normal environmental review process, as other projects are.
"In short, by the time Plaintiff and other mine supporters were permitted to have their say, the fix was in, and nothing that Plaintiff could say or do would change the outcome," Pebble attorneys said in court documents.
Attorneys for the EPA say the draft “options paper” presents possibilities for the EPA to consider in deciding whether and how to exercise its regulatory authority, not a predetermined outcome. Even if the document was shared with an attorney for mine critics — a point the government says it does not concede — it doesn't show a violation of the Federal Advisory Committee Act because getting input from one individual is not a violation, government attorneys said in court documents.
In a statement, the EPA said it spent three years evaluating science, conducting hearings and reviewing comments in developing its watershed assessment. "No process could have been more transparent and inclusive of all views, including for proponents of the Pebble Mine," the agency said.