Conservationists File to Intervene in Pebble Mine Lawsuit

A map of the proposed site for the Pebble mine. Image: National Parks Conservation Association.

Over a dozen conservation entities have filed as intervenors in U.S. District Court in Anchorage in a lawsuit filed by a Canadian mining company seeking to overturn a federal decision on Clean Water Act safeguards that would prevent development of the proposed Pebble project.

The intervenor litigants, who filed on May 17, contend that development of the copper, gold and molybdenum mine poses environmental danger to the region, its Alaska Native communities, resources, environment and economy.

“As businesses that rely on Bristol Bay and its salmon fisheries, we know just how important the EPA’s Clean Water Act protections are,” Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association Executive Director Lilani Dunn said. “Bristol Bay is critical for providing high-quality, sustainable seafood to consumers around the world.”

The legal battle over development of the Pebble mine, on state land that abuts the Bristol Bay watershed, dates back well over a decade. In 2010, six Alaska Native tribes in Bristol Bay petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency to protect the watershed from the proposed mine, over concerns of potential adverse impact on the world’s largest run of wild salmon and related impacts on wildlife and the overall environment.

Proponents of the mine, including a major Canadian mining company, contend that using modern technology, the mine could operate for years in harmony with the salmon fishery, which is critical to the economy, traditional Native culture and wildlife in Southwest Alaska.

The Pebble Limited Partnership and its parent company, Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd., a subsidiary of Hunter Dickinson Inc., filed two separate actions in U.S. District Court in Alaska in March.

One seeks to vacate the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency veto of development of the Pebble project, and the other contends that the EPA’s decision constitutes an unconstitutional “taking” of Northern Dynasty’s and the Pebble Partnership’s property.

Northern Dynasty President and CEO Ronald Thiessen is also president and CEO of Hunter Dickinson, a diversified, global mining group with headquarters in Vancouver, Canada. According to Northern Dynasty, the Pebble project is the world’s most significant undeveloped copper and gold resource.

On April 11, the State of Alaska filed its own lawsuit, asking the U.S. District Court in Anchorage to find the EPA’s order on state land in Bristol Bay unlawful. Alaska Atty. Gen. Treg Taylor called the EPA’s decision “an affront to the sovereignty of Alaska,” one that ignores state laws and regulatory program that protect anadromous fish and other natural resources.

Trout Unlimited, represented by the international law group Sheppard Mullin, separately filed as an intervenor. Nelli Williams, Alaska director of Trout Unlimited, called Northern Dynasty’s lawsuit “another chapter in the Pebble Partnership’s ongoing efforts to circumvent science the will of Alaskans, and common sense.”