Elusive former EPA scientist will be deposed in mining suit

Elusive former EPA scientist will be deposed in mining suit
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A former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) scientist who left the country three years ago will return to the U.S. to be questioned in a mining company’s lawsuit against the agency.

Phil North retied from the EPA and left the U.S. in 2013, and opponents of the EPA’s decision to restrict a massive copper and gold mine in Alaska have long looked to talk to him about the matter. 

Pebble LP, the company behind the proposed mine, has sued the EPA over the decision and accused North of colluding with environmental groups to block the mine’s permit, but the company hasn’t been able to secure his deposition in the case because he’s not in the country. 

That will change in March, E&E News reported Friday: North’s attorney told the environmental news service he will return to the U.S. to answer questions as part of the lawsuit. 

The deposition is a long time coming for Pebble. A federal judge in August approved a subpoena for North, calling him “a major player in the lead-up to the proposed [permit] proceeding before the EPA.” That deposition was supposed to take place in November.

Congressional Republicans, including members of the House Oversight Committee, have looked to inspect North’s role in the Pebble Mine decision. The EPA has maintained that he played a small role in the work, though officials have been unable to retrieve his emails from his time at the department. 

The EPA’s Office of Inspector General concluded last month that there was "no evidence of bias in how the EPA conducted the assessment" for the proposed mine in 2014, nor “that the EPA predetermined the outcome” of the biological assessment for the project.

It did, however, say North used his personal email account to help Alaska Native tribes write a petition against the mine in 2010. 

But investigators didn’t say whether North’s actions violated rules or the law. Investigators could not locate him for an interview, nor would his attorney send him a subpoena the inspector general had drafted.