Judge halts EPA action in Alaska mine case

A federal judge blocked the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from taking action against a massive proposed mine in Alaska.

The ruling provides temporary relief for the Pebble Partnership, the developer behind the Pebble Mine near Bristol Bay.

ADVERTISEMENT
The EPA proposed in July to block the mine due to its potential pollution and harm to tributaries of the bay. The unusual action has received national attention because Pebble has not filed a permit application.

District Judge H. Russel Holland’s ruling hinged on whether the EPA violated the federal law on advisory committees when it concluded that the mine would unacceptably harm waterways and the fish that live in them.

Pebble complained that the EPA used “de facto advisory committees that worked behind the scenes, and out of the public eye,” which resulted in “biased, junk science.”

Under the law, advisory committees to federal agencies must be transparent and open about their proceedings. But the EPA instead used three groups opposed to the mine to write its scientific assessment, the company said.

Monday’s decision was only preliminary and temporary, and did not comment on the merits of Pebble’s case. It blocks the EPA from finalizing its decision on the mine.

Pebble Chief Executive Officer Tom Collier told the Alaska Dispatch News that the ruling is a “procedural victory,” and doesn’t answer whether the EPA overstepped its authority by preemptively working to veto the project.

“We expect the case may take several months to complete,” Collier said. “This means that for the first time EPA’s march to preemptively veto Pebble has been halted.”

The EPA defended its scientific studies to the News, saying it used an extensive, peer-reviewed scientific process.

Pebble is working on a number of fronts against the EPA.

Another lawsuit was thrown out by the same judge in September as premature, and lawmakers in the House are investigating whether the EPA acted properly.

The House also passed a bill this year inspired by Pebble that would prohibit the EPA from blocking water pollution permits before they are filed.