A federal judge ruled Thursday to allow part of a case over the proposed Pebble mine project to move forward, laying the groundwork for a long legal fight over the Environmental Protection Agency’s interaction with anti-mine activists.

The decision advances one of several cases involving Pebble Limited Partnership, which wants to develop a massive gold, copper and molybdenum mine worth hundreds of billions of dollars about 200 miles southwest of Anchorage in Alaska’s most prolific salmon habitat.

Opponents of the mine solicited help from the EPA and argue that it could potentially devastate salmon fishing in the Bristol Bay watershed.

The case proceeding in U.S. District Court in Anchorage is over claims by Pebble that the agency formed “de facto” federal advisory committees to advise the agency on the mine. In doing so, Pebble argued, the EPA didn’t solicit balanced viewpoints or follow requirements for public and transparent meetings.

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Jessica Hathaway is the former editor in chief of National Fisherman.

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