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 2019 Environmental Protection Agency decision to remove protection for the Bristol Bay watershed.

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

RELATED: Foes of Pebble Mine lose a round in court

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.

READ: Trout Unlimited v. Pirzadeh opinion

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Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Alaska Public Media. She reports from the U.S. Capitol and from Anchorage. Reach her at lruskin@alaskapublic.org.

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