Court subpoenas emails of Pebble opponents

The Pebble mine is back in the news this week. Dozens of Pebble opponents were issued subpoenas as part of a lawsuit in federal court. That lawsuit alleges EPA was coordinating improperly with some of the mine’s opponents, and is now in the discovery phase.

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Pebble lawyers want to talk with and obtain documents from those who’ve worked alongside or supported EPA’s efforts. Spokesman Mike Heatwole says that will fill in blanks in the paper trail Pebble has been trying to put together:

“The EPA has not been very forthcoming in all of the Freedom of Information Act requests we have made over the course of several years. And really all we have right now is a very incomplete picture. What we’ve seen so far has caused us to have a lot of questions about what was really going on behind the scenes of the EPA.”

On the receiving end of the subpoena requests are a mix of individuals and groups who’ve been fighting against Pebble’s development. While the subpoenas were not entirely unexpected, some say it’s had a chilling effect; some of Pebble’s most outspoken critics are speaking only through an attorney this week. That attorney is Vicki Clark with Trustees for Alaska, an environmental law firm which was itself served a subpoena:

“Their discovery requests and the subpoenas are extremely broad and excessive. They’re not just about communications with EPA but they are about communication between private parties just about anything to do with Pebble and in some respects mining in general in Alaska. So this is a pretty desperate attempt by Pebble to have a chilling affect on the opposition to the project.”

Pebble says one of the key figures who knows what was happening inside the agency for several important years is former EPA employee Phillip North. He left the country after retiring two years ago, and the agency claims most of his government emails were lost when his hard drive crashed. A federal judge has ordered North to appear in Anchorage for deposition next month.

In related news, A report issued today [Tuesday] by the Cohen Group says the EPA has acted unfairly in its efforts to put preemptive restrictions in place to block the development of the Pebble Mine. The Cohen Group, founded by former US Senator and Clinton Defense Secretary William Cohen, was hired last March by Pebble to independently review the agency’s actions.