Judge hears motion to dismiss suit over proposed Pebble Mine

  • By Mark Thiessen
  • Thursday, May 28, 2015 9:46pm
  • News

ANCHORAGE — A federal judge was considering Thursday whether a lawsuit alleging federal regulators were in cahoots with opponents of a proposed Alaska mine can proceed.

U.S. District Judge H. Russel Holland heard arguments in the case filed by Pebble Limited Partnership against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which is seeking to have the case dismissed.

The EPA last year proposed restrictions that would essentially block development of the massive gold-and-copper mine near the headwaters of a premier salmon fishery in southwest Alaska. As part of the litigation, Holland ordered in December that the EPA stop all work related to the process pending a ruling on the merits of the case.

In 2011, the EPA, petitioned by Alaska Native tribes and others to protect Bristol Bay, initiated a review that found that large-scale mining in the Bristol Bay watershed posed significant risks to salmon and Alaska Native cultures that rely on the fish.

The agency later invoked a rarely used process through which it could ultimately restrict or prohibit development of the mine to protect the fishery.

Pebble backers sued over that process but Holland ruled the legal action was premature. A panel of judges from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Holland’s decision Thursday.

In the separate lawsuit that Holland heard Thursday, Pebble alleges that the EPA violated a federal law by establishing and working with groups of mine critics that essentially acted as advisory committees in the 2014 decision but failed to comply with requirements involving meeting notices and the providing of transcripts.

Brad Rosenberg, a U.S. Department of Justice lawyer representing the EPA, said the agency never created any of the subcommittees. He acknowledged that mine opponents contacted the EPA in attempts to sway opinion but said the Pebble Partnership also had numerous contacts with the EPA, including three meetings with the EPA administrator and 10 with the regional chief.

“If anything, Pebble had unprecedented access,” he said of the creation of the Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment report that served as the basis for the 2014 decision. “It just disagrees with the science.”

Pebble’s attorney, Roger Yoerges, said the EPA created defacto advisory committees to help find a way to block development of the mine.

“They knew the outcome from 2010 forward and manufactured a way to get there,” he said.

The government maintains Pebble can’t be considered an injured party because it was part of the process.

“What that presupposes is that nothing was going on behind closed doors,” Yoerges said.

“What we know is that plenty was going on behind closed doors.”

Holland said he would issue a written ruling at a later time.

Associated Press writer Becky Bohrer in Juneau contributed to this report.

More in News

Shawn Dick of Talkneetna carries a fresh catch out of the water while dipnetting on the Kenai Beach on July 10, 2020. (Peninsula Clarion file)
Kenai River dipnetting opens this month

The Kenai River personal use dipnet fishery opens July 10

The sun is seen shining above the Kenai River in Soldotna, Alaska, on July 14, 2020. (Photo by Erin Thompson/Peninsula Clario file)
When the temperature hits 70, Alaskans feel the heat — and start suffering health ills

Acclimatization, the angle of the sun at high latitudes and other factors make summer heat more intense in Alaska

A map shows active fires around the state of Alaska on Friday, July 1, 2022. (Screenshot from Alaska Wildland Fire Information Map)
Fire danger prompts restrictions on burning, fireworks

There were 160 fires in Alaska as of Thursday, and of those 17 were staffed with fire personnel

Jessica Cook, left, and Les Gara are photographed in The Peninsula Clarion’s offices Thursday in Kenai. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Gara, Cook campaign on the Kenai Peninsula

The pair cited education funding, reproductive rights and election security as priorities

A map shows the Seward Highway MP 17-22.5 Rehabilitation Project area. The Seward Highway between Mileposts 17 and 22.5 — from about Primrose Campground to near Teddy’s Inn The Woods — will be closed from 8 p.m. and 5 a.m. on Mondays and Wednesday starting July 18, 2022. (Screenshot)
Roadwork in Moose Pass to shut parts of Seward Highway

The Seward Highway between Mileposts 17 and 22.5 will be closed from 8 p.m. and 5 a.m. on Mondays and Wednesday starting July 18

Former Homer High School athletic director poses on Friday, July 1, 2022, at the high school athletic field in Homer, Alaska. (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News)
Work ethic, grit and teamwork

After two decades, Homer athletic director says goodbye to program he helped build

Assembly members participate during a meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly on Tuesday, June 21, 2022, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Another renewable energy company seeks to set up peninsula solar farm

Utopian Power wants to build a two-megawatt solar farm on a 40-acre chunk of land owned by the borough

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
COVID hospitalizations up from last week

Hospitalization data is the most effective indicator of the prevalence of the virus

Most Read