Pebble Mine backers sue over EPA’s power grab


LET’S GO: The backers of a massive mine project are ready to take the government to court.

By Dustin Hurst |

The backers of a lucrative mine project in the Alaskan wildness announced they will sue the Environmental Protection Agency over what investors say is a massive overreach of government regulatory power.

Pebble Limited Partnership, the backers of the not-yet-proposed Pebble Mine in Alaska’a pristine Bristol Bay region, is asking a district court to stop the EPA from killing or restricting the mine project before the project even applies for federal and state permits.

The EPA announced in February it would use its authority under Secton 404(c) of the Clean Water Act to, as the agency claims, protect delicate watersheds and salmon runs vital to the region’s economy, which is based largely on fishing.

The company, though, says the agency doesn’t actually possess the authority to block or limit the mine. “Here, nothing in Section 404 of the Act or elsewhere in the statute suggests that Congress intended for EPA to arrogate to itself an authority that essentially bans an activity—mining—before it is even proposed by an applicant,” the lawsuit says.

Pebble has spent years and more than $500 million studying the Alaskan mine project, which could yield huge deposits of copper, gold and other precious metals. The company has continually pushed back permit application submissions.

It’d be hard to blame the company, though, knowing the permits could eventually mean absolutely nothing. Pebble’s CEO, Tom Collier, said his company’s lawsuit could protect his project and other mining operations around the country.

“If EPA ultimately vetoes Pebble before a development plan is proposed or evaluated through the comprehensive federal and state permitting processes, the precedent established will have significant long-term effects on business investment in this state and throughout the country,” Collier wrote in a prepared statement to “Litigation is necessary in order to get the agency’s attention and bring some rational perspective back to the U.S. permitting process.

“While we would prefer to avoid this lawsuit, we are fully prepared to defend ourselves against the precedent-setting, unlawful actions of this agency.”

Hanady Kader, communications director for the EPA’s Seattle-based Region 10 office, defended the agency’s handling of the mine.

“EPA has said from the start that any action taken in Bristol Bay would be based on the science and the law,” Kader wrote to “While the agency’s authority under Clean Water Act Section 404(c) is clear and has been successfully used in rare occasion in the past, the agency continues to review the science and comments submitted by the Pebble Partnership and the State of Alaska before deciding whether to continue to the next step of the 404(c) process.”

Critics, though, suggest the EPA is charting a new course when it comes to Pebble. Through the past few years, the agency has conducted a pre-mine assessment of the project, a report built on a hypothetical mine scenario that suggested the Pebble Mine would destroy thousands of acres of wetland and threaten fish. Reviewers of the first draft, experts in the hydrology, mining and other outdoor sciences, largely panned the report.

One reviewer went so far as to call portions of the report “hogwash.”

Pebble isn’t the only party interested in the EPA’s unprecedented action on this project. Earlier this month, the agency’s own inspector general promised a review of the debacle to examine if the department broke any rules or policies in relation to the mine.