PLP’s Tom Collier describes efforts to fight EPA

Pebble Limited Partnership CEO Tom Collier says his company is “punching back” at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and its efforts to employ a rarely used section of the Clean Water Act to place restrictions on mining at the Pebble deposit in Bristol Bay. Speaking at a Resource Development Council breakfast earlier this month, Collier described Pebble’s plans to fight EPA’s use of the 404(c) process, including litigation and lobbying for an investigation into how EPA went about creating its recent Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment.

EPA officials are currently reviewing hundreds of thousands of public comments on proposed restrictions for the area before it decides whether to drop the action or continue on with the next step in the 404(c) process – drafting a Recommended Determination.

Lawsuits against the EPA

Collier said PLP’s first offensive begins in the courts.

  • PLP filed suit against EPA in May 2014 in federal court questioning the agency’s statutory authority to use the 404(c) process before PLP submits its permitting documents. Collier expects a ruling by October. Several other parties have intervened in the case, including: the state of Alaska and the Alaska Peninsula Corp. in support of PLP. Bristol Bay Native Corporation, the United Tribes of Bristol Bay, Trustees;for Alaska (representing Nunamta Alukestai),Trout Unlimited and the National Resource Defense Council have intervened in support of the EPA.
  • In September, PLP filed a complaint alleging collusion between EPA and “anti-mining coalitions” that would violate regulations stipulated in the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA). Collier noted documents obtained from the EPA through a Freedom of Information Act request support PLP’s allegations that anti-mining parties helped EPA write its Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment, gave advice to EPA on how to respond to Alaska Gov. Parnell, and held briefings directly with EPA’s Region 10 Administrator.

Inspector General investigation– PLP made repeated requests and complaints to the EPA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) regarding EPA’s process conducting the Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment. In May 2014 the OIG announced it would investigate whether the agency followed laws, regulations, policies and procedures when it developed the assessment. Collier indicated that a team of five EPA staff is working on the investigation.

Response to EPA’s Proposed Determination – A team of scientists and lawyers worked on PLP’s response to EPA’s Proposed Determination. Collier encouraged RDC attendees to respond as well.

Additional Plans – If none of these plans work, said Collier, he noted there are several more lined up to continue the fight, although he didn’t provide specifics.

Beyond Pebble? – Collier outlined what he said are EPA/environmental movement plans for “Zoning America,” with Pebble being the first step in the process. He noted tribes in Wisconsin and Michigan recently asked EPA to step in with 404(c) actions in their regions. “It lets EPA zone America for where mining should happen, where oil and gas exploration should happen – before anybody files a permit.” He also referenced a comment from a friend who is a “giant in the environmental movement” who had said the country needs “broader watershed planning” rather than case-by-case decisions. “That’s what the environmental community is up to. That’s why they are doing this…It’s already started. We’re going to see this all over America and we are particularly going to see this in Alaska. And we’ve got to stop them.”

Mount Polley – Collier also addressed the tailings dam breach in August at Mount Polley mine in British Columbia, Canada, calling it a disaster that would provide lessons for mining companies all over the world. He cautioned that it’s too soon to draw any conclusions about the breach, which released billions of gallons of wastewater and slurry into the surrounding watershed. The Mount Polley Tailings Storage Facility (TSF) was not designed to contain the amount of water that had been added to it, said Collier. He explained that Pebble’s mine plan includes a wastewater treatment plant, which he said makes for an entirely different scenario. Collier said he anticipated an investigation on the breach to be complete before December.

Watch Collier’s presentation