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Appeals court tosses one Pebble mine suit against EPA; arguments begin in another

A federal appeals court dismissed one of several ongoing court cases over the fate of Pebble mine Thursday, handing a win to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The Pebble Limited Partnership sued over the agency's decision to review whether the company could get a federal discharge permit for the proposed massive gold and copper mine -- even though Pebble had yet to file for a federal permit.

A three-judge panel agreed with a lower court, saying that administrative law doesn't allow the court to review a decision that isn't a "final agency action."

A February 2014 letter announcing EPA's plans to review the potential impacts of mining on the Bristol Bay watershed "was not the 'consummation' of EPA's decisionmaking process on any issue," the court said in the ruling. "The letter did not state whether or not EPA will veto the specification of Bristol Bay as a disposal site for dredged or fill material; it merely indicated that EPA was beginning a review process to decide that question."

Pebble Partnership maintains that EPA's move -- to review the potential impacts of the mine before the company filed for a permit -- is illegal, and the company can still have its day in court on that matter, said company spokesman Mike Heatwole.

EPA spokeswoman Hanady Aisha Kader said the agency is pleased with the decision.

The EPA's final decision about whether Pebble can mine in the area is on hold pending the outcome of a separate legal matter in a lower court. The two parties battled it out in federal district court in Anchorage Thursday, just as the appeals court issued its ruling. The judge is expected to issue a ruling in that case soon.

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