Former EPA biologist North’s whereabouts still unknown
Where in the world is Phillip North?
The former Environmental Protection Agency biologist is scheduled to be deposed by Pebble Limited Partnership and EPA attorneys Nov. 12 in Anchorage; however his whereabouts are unknown to both sides.
North is seen as a key witness in Pebble’s lawsuit against the EPA. In the lawsuit filed last year, Pebble contends the agency colluded with Alaska Native groups and other mine opponents while drafting the Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment. The assessment is the scientific basis for the EPA’s pending Clean Water Act Section 404(c) action, which would preemptively block large-scale mining in the Bristol Bay region.
North, who retired from the EPA in 2013, worked extensively on drafting the 1,000-plus page assessment, which was finalized early in 2014.
The EPA contends Pebble had the same access to agency officials as anyone else with interest in the Bristol Bay Assessment, and that any actions that potentially violated federal public meeting and objectivity laws were incidental.
U.S. Alaska District Court Judge H. Russel Holland halted the EPA’s Section 404(c) proceedings with an injunction last November, until the suit is resolved.
In his recent subpoena order, Holland ordered Pebble to offer up $2,400 to cover North’s travel expenses to Anchorage; Pebble attorneys suggested $1,500 in their motion to subpoena.
He is believed to be New Zealand or Australia.
Holland also wrote that he believes the EPA should be as vested as Pebble in hearing North’s testimony to resolve speculation about what went on during the assessment process.
Responsive documents to Pebble’s Freedom of Information Act requests have made it clear North drafted documents on a private computer that were not forwarded to EPA systems and encrypted documents on a thumb drive that EPA has not been able to access, according to Holland.
Pebble spokesman Mike Heatwole wrote in an email that the company does not know much about North’s location and as a result Pebble may seek to delay the Nov. 12 deposition.
EPA Region 10 said in a formal statement that, “as with other previous EPA employees, the agency has no information or comment on his location.”
In an interview with the Redoubt Reporter published July 17, 2013, North said he planned on sailing around the world with his family after his retirement.
He is also quoted as supporting the EPA’s then imagined Section 404(c) action to protect Bristol Bay’s world-renowned salmon runs.
Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected].