Judge: EPA ‘improperly’ withheld Alaska mining documents

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A federal judge has ordered the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to give the court documents related to its consideration of a controversial mining project in Alaska, ruling he has “no confidence” in the agency’s ability to decide which documents should become public following an open records request.

Pebble LP, a company looking to build a precious metals mine in Pebble Bay, Alaska, had sued the EPA seeking documents related to the agency’s consideration of the project. 

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Pebble filed a Freedom of Information Act request in 2014 to secure the documents, but the EPA did not hand over all of what it was looking for. Pebble sued, and Alaska U.S. District Judge Russel Holland ordered the agency to review the documents the company was seeking.

The agency did so and decided to withhold 10 documents out of the 130 Pebble sought. Holland has now ruled that wasn’t good enough, and that the court should have the job of reviewing the documents the EPA wants to keep private. 

“At this point, the court has no confidence that defendant has properly withheld documents, either in full or in part,” Holland wrote, ordering the EPA to submit to him the documents it doesn’t want to release.

Pebble — and the EPA’s review of the project — has been a source of controversy for the agency. Republicans and the company behind the mine have questioned the EPA’s decision to restrict the project, but the EPA’s inspector general ruled in January that it found “no evidence of bias” in its assessment of the gold and copper mine.  

Pebble pushed back on that report, calling on Congress to continue probing the agency’s decision-making on the matter. Pebble’s CEO, Tom Collier, told E&E Publishing on Tuesday that Holland’s decision proved the EPA’s “shenanigans” when it comes to the mine.