Judge throws out lawsuit against EPA on Alaska mine

A federal judge has dismissed a mining company’s lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) potential limitations to the Pebble Mine in Alaska.

Judge H. Russel Holland of the United States District Court in Alaska ruled that the lawsuit filed in May is premature because the EPA has not taken final action against the proposed mine.

Northern Dynasty Ltd., owner of the Pebble Partnership that is developing the mine, filed the lawsuit after the EPA decided in February to move forward and consider whether to block the mine.

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“The February 28, 2014 letter does not represent the consummation of the agency’s decisionmaking process, but rather the commencement of the agency’s decisionmaking process,” Holland wrote in the ruling released late Friday.

Because the letter was not a final action, federal courts lack jurisdiction over Pebble’s complaints, he said.

The Pebble Mine was proposed years ago, and would be the largest copper and gold mine in the world, located near Alaska’s Bristol Bay. It is likely to require a Clean Water Act permit to dispose of waste materials in a way that could harm local streams and eventually the bay itself.

The lawsuit argued that although the EPA can veto can veto Clean Water Act permits, the agency’s decision to move forward before Pebble filed an application is illegal.

Holland did not rule on the merits of the case, but left the door open for Pebble to file a lawsuit when the EPA makes a final decision.

That left Pebble hopeful.

“The ruling today relates to timing of our challenge of this pre-emptive authority and in no way decides the underlying issues,” Pebble Partnership Chief Executive Officer Tom Collier said in a statement.

“We remain very confident in the merits of this case,” he said. “Should EPA finalize its proposed veto restrictions regarding Pebble, we will pursue our claim that EPA lacks statutory authority to do so at that time.”

After Pebble filed its lawsuit, the EPA formally proposed in July to put restrictions on the mine’s operations in an attempt to protect Bristol Bay’s salmon population. Pebble said those restrictions would amount to blocking the entire mine development.

The EPA said it would make a final determination on Pebble in February.