Phil North Subpoenaed from Australia for Deposition in Farfetched Lawsuit
Washington, DC — In a wacky, only-in-Washington drama, a mine company charges a retired low-level U.S. Environmental Protection Agency worker with masterminding the demise of its multi-billion dollar copper scheme, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Called Pebble Mine, the project would straddle – and critics fear jeopardize – the world’s richest sockeye salmon fishery.
The proposed Pebble Mine is on life support after EPA accepted a protest by local tribes and exercised its veto powers under the Clean Water Act to block a needed permit – only the 14th time EPA has used this veto power since the Act’s passage back in 1971. Pebble Limited Partnership (PLP) has filed three lawsuits against EPA, only one of which remains. It charges EPA with violating the Federal Advisory Committee Act for consulting with tribes, fishing and environmental groups about the mine’s impacts.
In essence, PLP contends that EPA’s veto stems from an illegal conspiracy. At its center PLP seeks to place Phil North, a well-regarded ecologist who retired from EPA in 2013. After he retired, Phil and his family planned to travel the world. In his long absence (and his understandable reluctance to get involved in either the PLP lawsuit or congressional hearings ginned up by the mine’s Republican supporters) he became the focal point of increasingly strained conspiracy theories.
Desperate for a legal victory, PLP tracked Phil down under to serve him with a subpoena for a deposition in DC. During nearly ten hours of questioning on March 30th and 31st, the company lawyers were unable to overcome the basic facts that –
- North left EPA months before the veto decision was made;
- He operated from a one-person office in remote Soldotna, nowhere close, either geographically or hierarchically, to EPA decision-makers; and
- The EPA decision was based on a massive three-year, twice-peer reviewed scientific watershed assessment involving thousands of public comments.
“Phil North, the ‘Ecologist Who Came in from the Cold,’ is simply a pawn in a high-stakes corporate-political game,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch whose organization is now part of North’s legal team and today posted the deposition transcripts. “Phil is the unlikeliest Rasputin ever cast.”
In fact, North was in contact with local tribes since it was his job to make sure they were in the loop on all regional mining projects. The Pebble Mine was slated to be in the headwaters of Bristol Bay, Alaska, home to the world’s largest salmon run. Local tribes and others oppose the mine in large part because they are concerned that acid mine drainage, heavy metals, and massive chemical discharges could devastate fishing upon which their entire culture is dependent.
The silliness will continue as the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology subpoenaed North to submit to further questioning by Republican staff on April 14.
“It should concern every public servant and citizen that Phil North is being targeted for harassment solely for doing his job,” added Ruch, noting that even former U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens called Pebble “the wrong mine for the wrong place.” “Our job is to help him return to his family, who are currently in Indonesia, as soon as possible and escape any further entanglement in this ugly and utterly ridiculous legal charade.”