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Taryn Kiekow Heimer’s Blog

Anglo American, It's Time to Dump Pebble Mine

Taryn Kiekow Heimer

Posted September 26, 2012 in Reviving the World's Oceans, Saving Wildlife and Wild Places

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Anglo American CEO Cynthia Carroll has been in the news recently – and the news for the company isn’t good.  Amid reports of shareholder unrest, Carroll has pledged to cut $1.5 billion from the group’s 2012 capital expenditures.

“We will look at the entire value chain, from resources to mining to processes sales and marketing and people, and no option is off the table…” said Carroll. 

Here’s an option: cut Pebble Mine. 

Carroll also said that Anglo would prioritize capital to “projects with the lowest execution risks.” 

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Robert Glenn Ketchum 3.jpgPebble Mine, located at the remote headwaters of the world’s greatest salmon fishery, is fraught with risk.  Much has already been said about the unique environmental and economic risks associated with this particular site -- and they are significant. But there are other important risks as well, including:

Reputational Risk.   Anglo American is faced with an overwhelming number of Alaska Natives, Bristol Bay residents, commercial fishermen and others who are opposed to Pebble Mine, including:

Nunamta Aulukestai (composed of ten Native villages and nine Native village corporations in the Bristol Bay region) is also opposed to Pebble Mine.

In addition, prominent jewelers like Tiffany & Co., Helzberg Diamonds, Zale, and Jostens have expressed their opposition to Pebble Mine and vowed not to use gold extracted from it.

Continuing with the project in the face of local and national opposition jeopardizes Anglo American’s reputation.  In seeming recognition of this fact, Cynthia Carroll has pledged in the past that “We will not go where communities are against us.” Well, the communities have spoken and an overwhelming majority of them are against Pebble Mine.

Regulatory Risk.  Nine federally-recognized tribes in Alaska have petitioned EPA to protect Bristol Bay from large-scale mining like the Pebble Mine. The tribes specifically asked EPA to use its “veto” authority under Section 404(c) of the federal Clean Water Act. EPA received similar requests from the Bristol Bay Native Corporation, the Bristol Bay Native Association, commercial fishing and sportsmen groups, and conservation groups.

In response, EPA released a scientific review of the Bristol Bay watershed to understand impacts from large-scale development.  EPA’s draft Watershed Assessment – released in May for public comment and currently undergoing peer review and revision – documents the devastating impacts Pebble Mine would have on the region, including: 

  • Destruction of fish spawning and rearing streams;
  • Elimination of thousands of acres of wetland;
  • Reduction in the amount and quality of fish habitat due to water removal; and
  • Almost certainty (98% probability) of a of a pipeline spill with potential contaminant release into streams and wetlands.

Ketchum BB 2.JPG

The Assessment provides more than enough information to find with absolute certainty that large-scale mining in the Bristol Bay watershed would pose enormous harm to the watershed’s natural resources -- and the people and wildlife that depend on those resources. And it provides EPA with more than enough information to initiate action under the Clean Water Act to protect Bristol Bay from the inevitable threats of Pebble Mine.

In addition to risk from federal regulation, Pebble Mine also faces risk from local regulation.  In October 2011, voters in the Lake and Peninsula Borough in Bristol Bay passed the Save our Salmon (“SOS”) initiative. The initiative bans large-scale mining that would "destroy or degrade" salmon habitat and is in direct response to Pebble Mine.

Operational Risk.  To transport gold and copper from the mine site to market, Anglo American will have to construct massive infrastructure, including a marine terminal in Cook Inlet, roads, and pipelines. Cook Inlet is home to endangered beluga whales and the port would be situated in their critical habitat.  Obtaining regulatory approval will be arduous. In order to construct the 104-mile road, the Anglo American must acquire access rights from area landowners—many of which (particularly BBNC) oppose the mine and will not willingly provide access rights.  In addition, the construction and operation of Pebble Mine will require a massive new power source that Anglo American will need to build and transmit. 

Legal Risk.  A coalition of local communities, tribal governments, the commercial and sport fishing industries, conservation groups, sports groups, and numerous business interests has formed to oppose the mine. Stakeholders have filed challenges against the exploration permit, land use plan, and water rights for the project. Further lawsuits are inevitable.  

Pebble Mine is a risk that Anglo American can no longer afford to take. If Anglo American is looking to cut expenses, this is the perfect project to drop.  Because local opposition – and the risks associated with it – are only increasing.

Tell Anglo American that it’s time to listen. 

 

Photo credit: Robert Glenn Ketchum

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Comments

Ann von MehrenSep 26 2012 08:09 PM

I received your mailing today with the letter from Robert Redford. I feel that when you emphasize "foreign corporations" like British-owned Anglo-American and China-owned Rio Tinto, you are missing the point that development and probably contamination in the Bristol Bay is being advocated by American business lobbies. The head of the Pebble Partnership, advocating for the development of the mine, is a former commission of Alaska's Department of Natural Resources. I suggest you visit their webpage and you will see that they are advocating for the overturn of most of the Environmental Protection Agency's emphasis on protection. Although I support, whole-heartedly, Robert Redford and the NRDC's concerns and efforts to keep this beautiful wilderness "forever wild," like the Poconos and Adirondacks wilderness preserves, or to exploit it in through small-scale business mining, I will not send the form letters that make seem to be about keeping out foreign companies out of the bidding process. Please consider that, unless you all are actually an organization that is pro-American only devastation of the EPA, save the EPA regulations that currently are in place to protect that wilderness.

Taryn Kiekow HeimerSep 26 2012 10:08 PM

Hi Ann -- Thank you for your support of NRDC and EPA. I whole heartedly agree that EPA needs all the support it can get, particularly since it is now in a position to "veto" Pebble Mine using its authority under Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act. NRDC supports EPA and encourages the agency to use this authority to veto Pebble Mine. As to your point about the foreign mining companies, the Pebble Limited Partnership is a wholly-owned subsidiary of two mining corporations: Anglo American (based in the UK) and Northern Dynasty Minerals (based in Canada). Rio Tinto (based in the UK) owns approximately 10% of Northern Dynasty's share in Pebble. Although the Pebble Partnership has hired Alaskans, it is ultimately owned and controlled by those foreign mining corporations. Thank you, again, for your past support of NRDC's mission. And your passion for EPA.

As a post script, I also agree with your point that it's not about whether the mining company is foreign. It's about whether a particular project is in our best interest. Pebble Mine is not: it's simply the wrong mine, in the wrong place. And it's not worth the risk.

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