Pebble, EPA pushing to settle lawsuit

With the sides reportedly closing in on a settlement, an Alaska federal judge agreed to hit pause on Pebble Limited Partnership’s lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency one more time.

On March 20 U.S. District Court of Alaska Judge H. Russel Holland signed an order to stay proceedings in the suit until May 4, the deadline by which he expects Pebble and the EPA to have reached a deal to close the case, the order states.

The sides originally proposed negotiating through a mediator but have been in direct talks of late, with the EPA represented by nonpartisan agency leaders and officials from President Donald Trump’s administration, according to the joint motion to stay the case.

Initial talks about working out a settlement began early last August, based on court documents.

A joint motion to pause the lawsuit was first filed Dec. 30 and approved by Holland Jan. 4. That stay was in effect through March 20. Having not yet reached a deal, the sides subsequently asked for another six weeks to negotiate.

Pebble sued the EPA in September 2014 on the belief the EPA was biased in compiling the Bristol Bay Assessment, which determined a large mine in the Bristol Bay watershed would irreparably harm the region’s world-class salmon fisheries, among other impacts.

The gold and copper mine proponents further contend the EPA violated the Federal Advisory Committee Act by improperly collaborating with mine opponents and not adequately consulting Pebble Partnership in the crafting of the Bristol Bay assessment.

The EPA used the assessment as justification to move to stop Pebble from applying for federal environmental permits in 2014. In late 2014 Holland issued an injunction in the suit to stop the EPA from stopping Pebble until the court fight is resolved.

“Active discussions between all parties involved have been positive and very constructive. We remain confident in achieving a prompt and fair resolution that follows the rule of law, supports the interests of the parties involved and allows the Pebble project to move into a normal course permitting process,” Pebble CEO Tom Collier said March 20.

With a presumably more mine-friendly administration in the White House, leaders of Pebble’s owner company Northern Dynasty Minerals informed their investors in January that they plan to file for environmental permits this year.

However, Northern Dynasty has said it will likely need to find another partner to develop the multibillion-dollar project and more than a decade worth of unfulfilled claims Pebble will start permitting has drawn sharp criticism even from traditional resource development advocates in Alaska.

Meanwhile, Pebble is still waiting on the Alaska Department of Natural Resources to renew its two-year land-use permit for its Bristol Bay claims, which are on state land.

Mine opponents argue Pebble Partnership has been lax in cleaning and maintaining its exploration sites leading to small cases of damage to the landscape.

DNR has countered those claims, saying Pebble has met state environmental standards but the state agency has been slow to re-up the key permit.

03/22/2017 - 11:01am