WASHINGTON — Purveyors of the proposed Pebble mine aren’t done fighting federal, activist and state efforts to stop the massive gold and copper mine in its tracks.
This month, the Pebble Partnership will test its arguments that the Environmental Protection Agency jumped the gun in its efforts to stop the project and illegally colluded with the projects’ opponents before doing so. Meanwhile, the EPA’s independent inspector general is nearing completion of an investigation into the agency’s process.
Now it’s down to the lawyers, mining legal documents and unearthing years-old emails. Pebble CEO Tom Collier hopes a few legal wins will breathe new life into the project that many Alaskans consider down and out.
Since 2007, Pebble has spent several hundred million dollars in efforts to move forward on its mineral claims about 200 miles southwest of Anchorage, according to financial statements. Between 1988 and 2013, Pebble drilled 1,355 holes in the ground to test what lies beneath, and found gold, copper and molybdenum worth hundreds of billions of dollars.
Under pressure from activists, the fishing industry and others, EPA began conducting a scientific assessment of the Bristol Bay watershed in 2010 to determine what problems a mine like Pebble could cause for downstream salmon fisheries and the environment. Last year, the federal government decided the mine would be a big problem and began a regulatory process that would limit Pebble’s options for a necessary federal permit.
The agency’s findings suggested that “the porphyry copper mining of the scale contemplated at the Pebble deposit would result in significant and unacceptable adverse effects to important fishery areas in the watershed,” EPA said in a 2014 letter to Collier, the Alaska Department of Natural Resources and the Army Corps of Engineers.
Major funders Anglo American and Rio Tinto have dropped the project amid mounting opposition, and this year, Pebble’s budget is only about $15 million.
The lion’s share of it is going to fighting the EPA.
So far, on the Pebble front, “2015 has been deceptively quiet,” Natural Resources Defense Council senior policy analyst Taryn Kiekow Heimer wrote in a blog post this week. In reality, the legal fight is “intensifying,” and bills to revoke the EPA’s authority have been introduced in Washington, Kiekow Heimer said.
On May 14, the mine’s owners will take another stab, in federal court in Anchorage, at arguing that the EPA can’t legally issue a preemptive “veto” of the project. The best odds for Pebble aren’t in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals — a lower court tossed the request last year, saying it couldn’t rule on the issue since EPA hasn’t made a final decision. Court precedent on “final” EPA rulemakings is long, and appeals court judges are usually wary of making new precedent.
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