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State asks to join Pebble lawsuit against EPA

Dave BendingerBristol Bay Times-Dutch Harbor Fisherman

Last month, the Pebble Partnership filed a lawsuit in federal court, alleging that the Environmental Protection Agency is acting outside of federal law in its effort to preemptively withhold dredge and fill permits under section 404 of the Clean Water Act. Those permits, which have not yet been applied for, will eventually be needed to develop the Pebble Mine.

This week, the State of Alaska filed a motion to join the lawsuit as a plaintiff alongside Pebble.

“Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the EPA seeking to veto a hypothetical project before any permit application has been filed, is that it sets a precedent for the EPA to take land anywhere in the United States and prematurely limit development of a valuable resource,” Attorney General Michael Geraghty wrote in a statement.

Pebble and the state claim the EPA has “overstepped” the authority granted under the Clean Water Act, which does allow the agency to veto dredge and fill permits that have been applied for. Pebble says companies need the right to follow the standard permitting process, and deserve the chance to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement and have that reviewed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The state says the EPA is infringing on the state’s role in regulating land water uses within its borders.

The state’s motion to intervene details reasons why Alaska has an interest in joining the lawsuit. Two of those are “economic” and “regulatory”:

“The State has a right to royalties, mineral license taxes, and corporate income taxes on minerals produced from the Pebble project. EPA’s initiation of the Section 404(c) veto immediately chills investment and development opportunities, along with potential state revenues from, the development of valuable resources located on State lands. EPA’s premature decision to conduct a Section 404(c) veto review in the absence of a Section 404 permit application also thrusts aside the regulatory reviews that the State, as the primary land and water resource management authority, is allowed to apply in reviewing whether or not to approve of a proposed mine in Alaska. As a consequence, EPA’s action deprives the State of a meaningful review of an actual mine proposal.”

A federal judge will decide whether or not to allow the state to intervene in the lawsuit, after hearing from the other parties. The case was assigned to H. Russel Holland.

This story first appeared in The Bristol Bay Times/Dutch Harbor Fisherman and is republished here with permission.