In late November Federal Judge H. Russel Holland ordered a preliminary injunction to halt the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s 404(c) proceedings related to the Pebble deposit in Bristol Bay until he rules on the merits of a lawsuit the Pebble Limited Partnership (PLP) brought against the agency. Afterward, EPA attorneys interpreted the ruling as allowing at least internal work on the process. However, last week Judge Holland clarified his instructions in a Case Status order, writing that, “Defendants may not engage in any activities related to the 404(c) process.”
This order stands until after the court has ruled on the merits of PLP’s case that alleges EPA violated the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) during the process of developing the Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment, a document which informed its decision to pursue 404(c) protections at the Pebble deposit area in Bristol Bay.
The same Case Status set out the timeline for proceeding with the FACA case, as follows:
By Dec. 19, 2014 – PLP to submit an amended complaint (the Judge requested a much shorter version)
By Jan., 2015 – EPA to file a motion to dismiss (EPA already filed a motion to dismiss, but needs to revise it based on the amended complaint)
By Feb. 17, 2015 – PLP to file its opposition to the motion to dismiss
By March 6, 2015 – EPA will reply in support of the motion to dismiss
TBA – a hearing on the motion to dismiss will be scheduled after the court has reviewed the motion.
EPA staff had been in the process of reviewing more than 671,000 public comments submitted on its Proposed Determination, with next steps–either a Recommended Determination or withdrawal of the Proposed Determination–possible by Feb. 4, 2015. The judge’s ruling delays this work until late spring or early summer.