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

Sockeye salmon are gathered together at a test site for selective harvest setnet gear in Kenai, Alaska, on Tuesday, July 25, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Dipnets for commercial setnet fishers given emergency approval by CFEC

Up to three 12-hour periods of commercial dipnetting “may” be allowed each week from June 20 to July 31

Council member Dave Carey speaks during a meeting of the Soldotna City Council in Soldotna, Alaska, on Wednesday, June 12, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Soldotna explores increases to its water and sewer expansion fees

The fees are a single charge to people who are newly or differently demanding or utilizing the services of the city’s water and sewer system

Vice President Tyson Cox speaks during a meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly in Soldotna, Alaska, on Tuesday, June 4, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Assembly to discuss short-term rental tax on Tuesday

The resolution describes a proposed tax of up to 12%

Photo provided by Special Olympics Alaska Central Peninsula
The Special Olympics Alaska Central Peninsula team stands together for a photo during the Summer State Games in Anchorage.
Area athletes claim 45 medals at Special Olympics Alaska Summer Games

The Central Peninsula team fielded 17 local athletes in the competition

Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion
Rep. Justin Ruffridge, R-Soldotna, speaks in support of debating an omnibus education bill in the Alaska House Chambers on Monday, Feb. 19 in Juneau.
Ruffridge talks successes, unfinished business after freshman session in Juneau

Ruffridge is up for election this year, facing a challenger in former-Rep. Ron Gillham

tease
Homer, Seldovia to celebrate summer solstice

Events will be held starting June 20

A freshly stocked rainbow trout swims in Johnson Lake during Salmon Celebration on Wednesday, May 10, 2023, at Johnson Lake in Kasilof, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Slow sockeye fishing at Russian River, good rainbow trout at Kenai Lake

A Northern Kenai Fishing Report published by the State Department of Fish… Continue reading

Council member James Baisden speaks in favor of an amendment to the City of Kenai’s budget that would add funds for construction of a veteran’s memorial column in the Kenai Cemetery during a meeting of the Kenai City Council in Kenai, Alaska, on Wednesday, June 5, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Kenai budget amendment allocates funds for veterans’ columbarium in cemetery expansion

A columbarium is an aboveground structure that houses cremated remains

Council member Alex Douthit speaks in favor of an amendment to the CIty of Kenai’s budget that would reduce funds allocated to the Storefront and Streetscape Improvement Program during a meeting of the Kenai City Council in Kenai, Alaska, on Wednesday, June 5, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Funding reduced for City of Kenai’s storefront improvement grant program

Just over a year after the City of Kenai established its Storefront… Continue reading

Most Read