Federal Judge Halts EPA’s Pre-Emptive Veto Of Alaska’s Pebble Mine

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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The Environmental Protection Agency’s plan to veto the Pebble Mine in Alaska’s Bristol Bay was put on hold by a federal judge on Monday, hailing a small victory for the mine’s supporters in their legal battle to keep the project going.

The court victory, however, was only a “procedural victory” that “does not resolve our claims that EPA pursued a biased and predetermined” process against the Pebble Mine, Pebble Limited Partnership (PLP) CEO Tom Collier said in a statement.

“We expect the case may take several months to complete,” Collier said. “This means that for first time EPA’s march to preemptively veto Pebble has been halted.”

The small legal victory, combined with a federal investigation, could present huge problems for the EPA, which is preventing Pebble from getting a key federal permit needed to operate. PLP can now obtain documents through discovery and depose individuals in their pursuit to show that the EPA’s veto of the Pebble Mine was biased.

“We now have the opportunity to conduct discovery regarding all relevant documents and to conduct depositions of the major people involved in this process against Pebble,” Collier said. “The documents we have been able to review thus far disclose more than 500 contacts between EPA and activists.”

But that’s not all. As Pebble supporters celebrate their legal win, investigators with the EPA inspector general’s office are continuing their probe into the agency’s decision on the Pebble Mine to discover if the process was rigged and influenced by environmental activists.

Greenwire reported on Nov. 13 that “the inspector general review has moved in recent weeks from preliminary research to field work” which was focused on determining whether “EPA followed the necessary laws, policies and procedures.”

“We know that far left environmental groups, like the Natural Resources Defense Council, influenced EPA to prevent the Pebble Mine project from having a fair shot in the regulatory process,” Louisiana Sen. David Vitter, the top Republican on Environment and Public Works Committee, told The Daily Caller News Foundation in a statement.

The Pebble Mine has been a lightning rod for political controversy, becoming another battleground Republican efforts to curb EPA overreach and environmentalist efforts to prevent large-scale mining projects.

What set the fight off, was the EPA’s attempt to deny the mine a Clean Water Act permit necessary for the mine to operate. The EPA moved to evaluate the impacts of the mine before any actual plans for the mine had been put forward or any permits had been sought.

“It’s unprecedented — even for the EPA — to attempt to shut down a project before the developer has the opportunity to apply for a permit,” Vitter said. “The OIG needs to take a very close look at this, however, I can guarantee you that our new conservative Congress will be forcing the EPA to be more transparent and accountable.”

The EPA’s final watershed assessment released early this year found that Pebble would harm Bristol Bay salmon fisheries and impact surrounding wetlands and streams. All this based on a hypothetical mine.

The negative EPA decision imperiled the project’s chance of getting a federal permit and its financial viability. The decision was followed by an announcement that mining giant Rio Tinto was pulling out of the project. Last year, mining company Anglo-American pulled out of the Pebble project.

Republican lawmakers have criticized the EPA for blocking the mine’s permit and for wasting taxpayer dollars in delaying the project. Vitter and California Republican Rep. Darrell Issa have looked into the EPA’s decision on Pebble, specifically to see if there was any undue influence from environmental groups.

The lawmakers have gone through documents and emails to see if groups, like NRDC, have been using their cozy relationship with EPA officials to influence the decision.

“[Environmental groups] are active in the Region,” said Abraham Williams, native Alaskan and president of the pro-development nonprofit Nuna Resources. “They have people on the ground and they move around the communities very well. They are well funded. It’s amazing. They are like ants — they work everywhere.”

NRDC is one of the environmental groups opposed to the Pebble Mine. The group has sent activists into Bristol Bay native communities to campaign against the mine and has even put out ads starring actor Robert Redford opposing the project.

“Rio Tinto’s decision is the latest demonstration that the Pebble Mine is economically and environmentally infeasible, even for the largest mining companies in the world,” Joel Reynolds, western director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement after Rio Tinto’s decision to pull out of the project.

“The company’s decision to divest is a vindication of its stated commitment to sustainability in the region and the health, safety, and cultural heritage of the people of Bristol Bay — and its withdrawal serves the interests of the company’s shareholders,” Reynolds added.

Despite the setbacks, Pebble Mine supporters have vowed to continue fighting the EPA and get the project back on track.

The EPA did not immediately respond to TheDCNF’s request for comment.

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