The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the developer behind the Pebble Mine project are close to a settlement that would reverse the Obama administration’s unprecedented veto of the Alaska mining project.
EPA and the Pebble Partnership asked the court Thursday for one week to finalize the agreement, ending a lengthy lawsuit filed after the Obama administration preemptively blocked the mine in 2014.
“EPA’s preemptive actions against us were unprecedented,” Pebble Partnership spokesman Mike Heatwole told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
“What this would allow is for us to have access to the normal permitting process. Something we have sought for some time,” Heatwole said, adding this would “allow us to file for that permit via the Corps of Engineers and have the project objectively evaluated under the full NEPA process.”
The Pebble mine became a political battleground, pitting environmentalists and the Obama administration against Republicans looking to curb federal overreach.
Environmentalists opposed the Pebble mine, saying it would pollute streams running into nearby Bristol Bay, Alaska — the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery. The EPA agreed and worked to block the mine.
The EPA preemptively blocked the Pebble mine from even applying for a Clean Water Act Section 404 permit in 2014 at the urging of environmental groups and some Alaskan tribes opposed to mining.
EPA issued a final watershed assessment in 2014, claiming the Pebble mine would harm Bristol Bay salmon fisheries and impact surrounding wetlands and streams. But this finding was based on evaluating hypothetical mining operations, and not the Pebble project itself.
Regardless, the negative EPA report signaled to investors the project had little to no chance of getting a federal permit. Mining giant Rio Tinto pulled out of the project shortly after the EPA’s report went out, followed by Anglo-American the next year.
Republicans launched investigations into EPA’s decision on the Pebble mine. The House Committee on Science, Space and Technology found that EPA ecologist Phil North worked with mine opponents to block Pebble mine from being built.
“North’s close relationship with the anti-Pebble Mine groups gave him intimate knowledge of the impending preemptive 404(c) letter from the tribes, allowing him to prepare briefing documents to send out to Region 10 managers once the petition was received,” Republicans reported.
“Documents show North edited the tribes’ petition before it was sent to EPA in May 2010,” the report found, adding that the “final version of the letter from the tribes incorporated North’s edits.”
North evaded communications, fled the country and “avoided service by the U.S. Marshals Service of a subpoena to be deposed by the Committee,” lawmakers wrote in their report.
EPA’s inspector general reported in 2016 the agency “lost” two-year’s worth of North’s emails. The IG’s office found a “possible misuse of position” by North, but cleared EPA of any bias in the process.
Republicans and Pebble Partnership rejected that report, pointing to a report by a consulting firm run by former defense secretary William Cohen, which found EPA came to a predetermined conclusion about the mine and colluded with environmentalists to kill the project.
“The statements and actions of EPA personnel observed during this review raise serious concerns as to whether EPA orchestrated the process to reach a predetermined outcome; had inappropriately close relationships with anti-mine advocates,” according to Cohen’s report, which was done at the request of the Pebble Partnership.
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