Pebble: Appeals court revives case challenging EPA’s removal of watershed protection

Aerial view of braided wetlands and tundra that is typical of the Bristol Bay watershed in Alaska, July 26, 2010. (Photo: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)

A panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has revived a lawsuit aimed at blocking construction of the Pebble Mine in Southwest Alaska.

The lawsuit, filed by environmental groups, tribes and other mine opponents, challenged a decision by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2019 to remove protection for the Bristol Bay watershed.

U.S. District Judge Sharon Gleason ruled last year that courts could not review the decision because the Clean Water Act did not specify what legal standard applied. The appeals panel agreed that the law did not include that standard, but said EPA’s regulations do.

In an opinion released Thursday, the panel said EPA could remove the protection adopted by the Obama administration “only when an ‘unacceptable adverse effect’ on specified resources was not ‘likely.’”

The panel sent the case back to the District Court to determine if those conditions are met.

Meanwhile, the controversy over the proposed mine is playing out in other venues. Late last year, the Army Corps of Engineers denied a permit for the mine. Pebble is appealing that decision.

Alaska Public Media

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