JUNEAU, Alaska — A federal judge on Wednesday quashed subpoenas against two groups that have been critical of the proposed Pebble Mine and former officials of each.
The group behind the mine project, the Pebble Limited Partnership, is suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, alleging the EPA worked with mine critics with a predetermined goal to block the project.
Pebble alleges that the EPA violated federal law by working with critical groups that essentially acted as advisory committees, but did not comply with requirements under the Federal Advisory Committee Act such as giving notice of meetings or making transcripts available.
As part of its case, Pebble sought documents from the Alaska Conservation Foundation and Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association related to communications they had with the EPA and others about the project. Subpoenas also were served on a former program officer for the foundation and a former executive director of the association. None are parties to the case.
Pebble also is pursuing discovery from the EPA. In a written order dated Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge H. Russel Holland indicated that Pebble should be able to get what it wants from EPA documents and any communications between the groups and the EPA.
Pebble spokesman Mike Heatwole said by email that Pebble has been assertive in seeking information and will continue to seek documents that support its claims.
Pebble believes third-party groups have documents relevant to the case and has seen this in the document production so far from other groups, he said. In all, Pebble has served about 60 subpoenas, most to organizations, Heatwole said.
Lawyers for the EPA have said in court documents that Pebble had "countless contacts" with the agency and the lawsuit is a bid to undermine the EPA's proposal to protect parts of the Bristol Bay region from development.
Meanwhile, Heatwole said Pebble has not yet served a subpoena on Phil North, a former EPA employee, citing international challenges.
Holland in August granted Pebble's request to subpoena North, who he said is believed to be living in Australia. Holland said North appears to be at the center of Pebble's claims and that North may be the only person within the EPA capable of shedding "meaningful light" on whether unauthorized advisory committees were created or used in connection with the preparation of an EPA study on the Bristol Bay region.
The study laid a foundation for the EPA to invoke a rarely used process by which it could restrict or prohibit development of the mine.