Federal judge refuses to stop Alaska mine developer’s lawsuit against EPA

M.D. Kittle
Posted: Jun 08, 2015 1:12 PM
Federal judge refuses to stop Alaska mine developer’s lawsuit against EPA

By M.D. Kittle | Watchdog.org

In what is being hailed as a “significant victory” for due process, a federal judge last week ruled that a lawsuit by mine developer Pebble Limited Partnership against the Environmental Protection Agency may proceed.

Judge H. Russell Holland said PLP, the developer of a proposed copper and gold mine in southwest Alaska, has raised plausible claims the EPA improperly used input from anti-mining groups in crafting its Bristol Bay Watershed assessment.

The study warns of potentially disastrous impacts the proposed multibillion-dollar open-pit mine could bring to the Bristol Bay Watershed, near the headwaters of the largest salmon fishery in the world.

Photo/Alaska Journal of Commerce, Rob Stapleton

MINE WIN: A helicopter leaves a drilling site in the northeast portion of the Pebble mine claim near Iliamna, Alaska. The developers of the proposed mine last week won a victory in their lawsuit against the EPA when a federal judge ruled the case could proceed.

Holland’s ruling sets up what promises to be a long legal battle between the EPA and the developer.

“Today’s decision is a significant victory for Pebble as it allows us to advance our case,” said Tom Collier, PLP’s chief executive officer, in a statement.

“We are convinced the EPA has pursued a biased process against our project that then drove their actions toward a predetermined outcome,” Collier added. “Our fight with the EPA has been about a fair and transparent process for objectively evaluating a development plan for our project once we have presented it via the permitting process.”

Now the developer plans to seek discovery, deposing federal employees and external third parties, to develop additional evidence “regarding allegations that EPA allowed anti-mine activists in inappropriate access and influence with respect to EPA actions against Pebble,” Collier said.

PLP also is seeking documents that may show the EPA’s problem with transparency under the Freedom of Information Act. The EPA’s inspector general currently is looking into allegations of misconduct by the agency.

EPA officials have forwarded request for comment to the U.S. Department of Justice.

In March, William S. Cohen announced that his firm, the Cohen Group, assisted by the law firm DLA Piper Global, will conduct an independent review to determine whether the EPA acted fairly. Cohen, former defense secretary in the Clinton administration, was retained by PLP to look into the EPA’s handling of the matter.

The U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee has questioned the EPA’s move to preemptively kill the proposed mine project before PLP has the opportunity to present its full plan to regulators.

Documents obtained under Freedom of Information Act requests raise serious questions about the EPA’s conduct.

PLP has long said it welcomes a thorough review of its proposals, but wants the opportunity to present the information through due process, which the group believes has been denied via the EPA’s preemptive push to kill the project.

“Our message is about standing up for fair and due process,” PLP spokesman Mike Heatwole told Watchdog last August.