The battle being waged between Pebble Limited Partnership and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over the proposed Pebble Mine took another turn when the EPA said it would push for the release of thousands of records from Pebble and suggested the project is halted because of low commodity prices and not EPA regulations.
The EPA says it has turned over more than 100,000 pages of records to Pebble through the court process where each side must provide relevant documents to the other. Government lawyers are reviewing additional records subpoenaed by Pebble from the former EPA scientist who is central to the case, Phillip North. Both sides are holding onto records that the other side wants, The Alaska Dispatch News reported.
Pebble is searching for proof of collaboration between the EPA and environmental groups opposed to the development of the Pebble Mine. A judge ruled earlier this month in a separate public records case that EPA improperly withheld at least parts of dozens of other documents requested by Pebble. U.S. District Judge Russel Holland wrote that he had “no confidence” in EPA’s assessment of which government records should be made public.
Now EPA is pushing for records from Pebble. The agency is asking Holland to force Pebble to provide company documents on its mining plan, finances, lost investors and payments to select Pebble advocates and groups connected to the Bristol Bay region. The agency said in a recent court filing that it needs the financial records to examine what role its actions actually played.
EPA says it is trying to determine “if Pebble’s asserted financial troubles can be attributed to EPA, or whether, as EPA suspects, they are caused by other factors such as falling mineral prices and mine viability more generally.”
Pebble said this is irrelevant. The lawsuit is over whether EPA improperly worked with an outside group in violation of the federal Advisory Committee Act, not whether Pebble is reeling over the price of gold, says Tom Collier, Pebble’s chief executive officer.
Pebble contends that EPA was too chummy with mine opponents, forming an illegal backroom advisory committee that guided an unprecedented early EPA evaluation of the risk of a large mine in the Bristol Bay watershed.
Mine developers are trying to stop EPA from vetoing Pebble through that process. In 2014, Pebble convinced Holland that it already suffered economically and probably would be destroyed if the EPA were allowed to block a giant mine through the Clean Water Act. The judge put EPA’s work on hold while the court case sorts out.
Pebble says the question of harm only mattered back when Holland was being asked to take swift action. EPA disagrees. Once Pebble raised the issue of financial harm, EPA said, the government should be able to explore the causes.