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Groups Sue EPA Over Scrapped Pebble Mine Pollution Limits Plan

Oct. 8, 2019, 4:38 PM

Five Alaska groups filed suit in federal court against the EPA on Oct. 8, challenging the agency’s July decision to undo proposed restrictions on mining operations in Alaska’s Bristol Bay region.

That decision was “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, and not in accordance with law,” the litigants alleged in their complaint before the U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska.

The Obama administration proposed water pollution limits for the massive planned gold, copper, and molybdenum mine in 2014, but never finalized them.

The Environmental Protection Agency has said it withdrew those proposed limits because they constituted an unfair veto of the planned mine. The restrictions were based on outdated assumptions about the mine’s design, the EPA said.

But the complaint alleges that no new information has surfaced to support withdrawing the proposed limitations, and that the EPA hasn’t laid out a “rational connection between the facts found and the decision made.”

The EPA also hasn’t explained its decision to reverse a surprise January 2018 decision to keep the proposed limitations in place, according to the complaint.

‘Science-Based Protections’

Lindsay Layland, deputy director of litigant United Tribes of Bristol Bay, said in a statement that “a corrupt political landscape and a few backroom deals have resulted in the illegal withdrawal of peer-reviewed, science-based environmental protections for the world’s most pristine ecosystem and wild salmon habitat.”

The proposed mine is located in an area that drains into Bristol Bay, home to the world’s most productive wild salmon fishery.

“The EPA’s proposed determination to enact 404(c) Clean Water Act protections is an important tool for safeguarding the world’s most productive salmon habitat, and we cannot allow it to be cast aside without due process,” said Andy Wink, executive director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, also a party to the litigation.

Pebble says the mine will be done in an environmentally safe way that won’t harm the fishery and will also create jobs in Alaska.

Other litigants include the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp.; Bristol Bay Native Association Inc.; and the fishermen-owned Bristol Bay Reserve Association.

The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies said in a separate report on appropriations legislation on Sept. 26 that the Army Corps of Engineers’ permitting process for Pebble Mine lacks important information, and thus “likely underestimates its potential risks and impacts.”

The case is Bristol Bay Econ. Dev. Corp. v. Hladick, D. Alaska, No. 3:19-cv-00265, 10/8/19.

To contact the reporter on this story: Stephen Lee in Washington at stephenlee@bloombergenvironment.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at ghenderson@bloombergenvironment.com; Renee Schoof at rschoof@bloombergenvironment.com; Anna Yukhananov at ayukhananov@bloombergenvironment.com