Pebble’s Subpoenas To Mine Opponents Get Tossed Out

Federal Judge Refuses to Allow Pebble Access to Pebble Opponents’ Private Communications

Nov 18, 2015
Lisa Oakley
Salmon photo courtesy of Dr. Carol Ann Woody

Alaska’s clean water supports important salmon populations and habitat. Photo courtesy of Carol Ann Woody.

A Federal judge today put a stop to Pebble Limited Partnership’s (Pebble) attempt to access private communications from several Pebble Mine opponents in the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The court told Pebble that it could not have access to these documents because the subpoenas were “totally unreasonable,” “needlessly broad,” and “irrelevant.” Additionally, the court found the communications to be protected by the First Amendment and held that the subpoenaed individuals and groups “have the right to communicate with one another on matters of joint interest and, if they wish, to make joint presentations to the EPA.”

The Bristol Bay watershed produces some of the world’s largest runs of salmon. The commercial fishery provides jobs to 10,000 people annually and depending on the runs, is valued around $100 million. The prospect of a large-scale mining operation in the middle of this natural bounty is ill-advised. Photo courtesy of © Carl Johnson.

The Bristol Bay watershed produces some of the world’s largest runs of salmon. The commercial fishery provides jobs to 10,000 people annually and depending on the runs, is valued around $100 million. The prospect of a large-scale mining operation in the middle of this natural bounty is ill-advised. Photo courtesy of © Carl Johnson.

For the past few years, Pebble has been waging an aggressive battle against its political opponents in both the federal court and on Capitol Hill. One of Pebble’s federal court battles accuses the EPA of violating FACA, an open meetings-type law that prevents federal agencies from putting together secret committees to advise them on particular agency actions. Pebble is not pleased with EPA’s proposal to use Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act to protect the world class Bristol Bay watershed from the proposed Pebble Mine. If built, the Pebble Mine would be one of the world’s largest metallic sulfide mines located in the home of the world’s largest salmon fishery. Unhappy with this potential result, Pebble decreed the years-long public process that EPA undertook to reach its preliminary decision unfair, biased, and in violation of FACA. In July of this year, Pebble began knocking on the doors of long-time Pebble opponents looking for documents to prove that EPA violated FACA.

Pebble issued subpoenas to more than 60 groups, individuals, and organizations, almost all of whom opposed the Pebble Mine. With these subpoenas, Pebble demanded access to 11 years’ worth of private communications and documents. The Pebble Mine poses a tremendous threat to the region that would last forever, and there were large-scale, and often times coordinated, campaign and advocacy efforts aimed at countering this threat. Pebble wanted the court to require those groups, individuals, and organizations involved in these advocacy efforts to hand over all of their private communications, computers, and paper documents about their efforts to oppose the Pebble Mine. Several of the groups targeted by Pebble asked the court to block Pebble’s access to these private documents because it would interfere with their First Amendment rights.

Today’s decision found that much of what Pebble sought was entirely irrelevant to the FACA claim because “proof of a FACA violation comes from agency conduct” not from the conduct of private citizens. The court reminded Pebble that “[s]tatements of opposition are not evidence of a FACA violation.”

Trustees for Alaska is representing several of the subpoenaed individuals in this case. This decision is a victory for those groups, individuals, and organizations who worked tirelessly to exercise their First Amendment rights to speak out against the Pebble Mine and to petition EPA to make the right decision.

Read the Court’s Decision

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