A federal judge has refused to block a lawsuit by an Alaskan mining company, which claimed bias in the Obama administration's bid to block the firm's efforts to build a huge gold and copper mine southwest of Anchorage.
US district judge H Russel Holland allowed the suit by Pebble Limited Partnership as the mining company had made a ''plausible'' case in arguing that the regulators had been unfairly influenced by anti-mine activists in their decision to block the mine.
According to commentators, the decision, announced on Thursday in Anchorage, would likely lead to a protracted legal battle over the proposed Pebble Mine, which, if built, would put one of the world's biggest open-pit gold mines on undeveloped land 150 miles upstream of Alaska's Bristol Bay.
The Environmental Protection Agency seeks to block the mine over potential risks to the region's highly productive salmon fishery.
The company has accused the EPA of violation of the 1972 Federal Advisory Committee Act, or FACA, which aims to prevent unfair outside influence in government decisions. According to company officials, anti-mine groups were given improper access as regulators were deciding whether to take the unusual step of preemptively blocking the mine without allowing the normal permitting process to move forward.
''We are convinced the EPA has pursued a biased process against our project that then drove their actions toward a predetermined outcome,'' Pebble CEO Tom Collier said in a statement responding to the judge's decision. ''Our fight with the EPA has been about a fair and transparent process for objectively evaluating a development plan for our project once we have presented it via the permitting process.''
The company said in federal court the EPA formed three advisory committees and then failed to adhere to specific transparency requirements under the Federal Advisory Committee Act.
According to Pebble, the committees formed part of a predetermined effort to kill one of the world's largest copper projects, located some 200 miles (320 km) southwest of Anchorage near the headwaters of the world's largest salmon fishery.
Pebble said those committees influenced the outcome of a watershed report that ultimately placed additional restrictions on the company's efforts to obtain permits.