Natural resource industry leaders nationwide shuddered in February 2011 when the Environmental Protection Agency announced its intent to veto the proposed copper, gold and molybdenum-rich Pebble Mine in southwestern Alaska – before the developer even had finished its preliminary design.

Without warning, the EPA had nullified a half-dozen basic laws and seized power to itself without authority.

The shock went viral: “If they can do it to Pebble, they can do it to us.”

It was so stunning that Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana, then the top Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said, “It’s unprecedented—even for the EPA—to attempt to shut down a project before the developer has the opportunity to apply for a permit.”

How could this happen in a nation of laws and due process?

The appalling answer can be found in a 138-page briefing paper Pebble Limited Partners filed last year with its lawsuit against the EPA in the U.S. District Court of Alaska.

The secret behind the EPA’s pre-emptive strike against Pebble Limited Partners was a three-pronged cabal–lavishly funded by left-leaning environmental groups–of environmentalist coalitions, anti-mining scientists and anti-mining assessment consultants who were secretly given illegal access to and power over EPA strategy and decision-making, according to the Pebble group’s brief.

Big Green’s devastating, years-long anti-Pebble campaign was the second-most-expensive environmentalist assault ever, right behind the ongoing war of climate alarmists against climate skeptics. Green forces assumed Pebble was dead.

EPA administrator Gena McCarthy. (Photo: Bill Roth/Anchorage Daily News/MCT)

EPA administrator Gena McCarthy. (Photo: Bill Roth/Anchorage Daily News/MCT)

It is not. In November, U.S. District Court Judge Russel Holland responded to Pebble Limited Partnership’s lawsuit with a preliminary injunction against EPA, ordering the agency to stop its attack. Holland’s ruling does not resolve Pebble Limited Partnership’s complaint that EPA pursued an unlawful, biased and predetermined outcome against it, but it does presume the company could prevail on the merits at trial and gives it time to make its case.

Not only can the Pebble group now obtain documents through the discovery process and question individuals under oath, but the EPA Inspector General’s office also is conducting an investigation into the matter, and several congressional oversight committees have begun to look into it as well.

The EPA is so accustomed to judicial deference that officials couldn’t believe Judge Holland’s ruling. They even sent back a request for clarification, saying, “EPA does not interpret the order as otherwise impacting essentially internal Agency work on this issue, including work related to public comment review or internal deliberations.”

Judge Holland clarified his ruling. The EPA, he said,  is barred from any activity whatsoever to advance its work on the Pebble issue. Period.

Pebble Limited Partners’ all-out counterattack against EPA is highly unusual. Most industries treat regulators with great caution for fear the agency will strike back on subsequent projects.

Pebble CEO Tom Collier told The Daily Signal, “We’re pushing back pretty hard; it’s true. We’re a single-asset company, unlike most under EPA regulation, which have many projects to protect. We’re preparing pointed depositions of some very powerful regulators during the discovery process, something that most could not risk. We will gain access to emails, meeting records and documents that EPA either refused to produce or redacted so completely that all vital information was hidden. The next six months will be interesting times for the EPA and everybody involved.”

Those involved with EPA include not only government officials, but also a number of anti-mine cohorts, according to Pebble Limited Partnership’s brief.

An “anti-mine Coalition” is alleged to have “secretly advised EPA on how the Agency should develop its strategy, made critical recommendations on who EPA officials should recruit, how the Agency could best leverage the Alaska Native Tribes, and how to formulate EPA’s messaging in a way that would minimize anti-federal government backlash among Alaskans,” the brief states.

This coalition, according to the brief, included Trout Unlimited, the Center for Science in Public Participation, The Nature Conservancy, the National Wildlife Federation, The Wilderness Society, the Alaska Conservation Foundation and five other groups. The activism of these groups in various anti-Pebble campaigns is confirmed in numerous news stories and IRS grant reports.“ Anti-Mine Scientists” are alleged to have “provided EPA with the tailor-made ‘science’ that the Agency was seeking and meshed with EPA’s predetermined conclusions about the allegedly adverse impact of mining activities.” The brief names 18 scientists, some from major universities.

The “Anti-Mine Assessment Team” allegedly included “individuals who are not employed by the federal government, who provided advice and recommendations to EPA, developed the direction of the Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment, and contributed to, and drafted, the Assessment and its Appendices.” The Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment is the document EPA used to justify its pre-emptive veto of Pebble mine. The brief identified 15 individual team members by name.

“Billionaire Club” donors drove much of the coalition with large prescriptive grants. The private foundation of Intel magnate Gordon Moore gave $1.1 million to the Alaska Conservation Foundation for “Pebble mine campaign coordination,” and $833,000 to The Nature Conservancy for “Pebble mine science and risk assessment” – ironic for a firm whose livelihood depends on massive use of copper.

The private foundation of electronics billionaire William Hewlitt gave $150,000 to Trout Unlimited for “prevention of development of Pebble Mine.” The private foundation of the jewelry company Tiffany’s gave $200,000 to The Nature Conservancy and $100,000 to the Alaska Conservation Foundation to kill Pebble, according to IRS Form 990PF reports.

Even in the preliminary study phase, Pebble provided well-paying jobs for the nearby Alaskan Native village of Iliamna. As a result, the median income for a family was $61,250, no families lived below the poverty line and there was no measurable crime rate, unlike most Southwest Alaska fishing towns.

Abe Williams, president of Anchorage-based Nuna Resources, an Alaskan Native organization that supports economic development and boasts 200 associate members, said the EPA’s actions have been devastating

“The people of the entire Iliamna area have seen a massive decline of economic activity and the loss of jobs as the EPA worked collusively with special interests to kill the Pebble project,” Williams told The Daily Signal. “This has left much uncertainty for our hopes to build sustainable economies. We have asked the EPA over and over for a fair and balanced process, but I’m very skeptical about the EPA and its ability to achieve fairness here.”

Tom Collier’s bold leadership of Pebble Limited Partnership’s fight for fairness has given Williams and many workers in Southwest Alaska at least a flicker of hope. Now it’s up to the federal courts.