Yesterday Anglo American, a 50 percent partner in the Pebble Limited Partnership, announced that it is withdrawing from Pebble Mine, a giant gold and copper mine proposed at the headwaters of Bristol Bay, Alaska. The London-based mining giant finally recognized what Alaska Natives, Bristol Bay residents, commercial fishermen, sportsmen, lodge owners, chefs, jewelers, EPA scientists, NRDC and others have been saying for years: Pebble Mine poses too great of a risk.
Anglo American Chief Executive Mark Cutifani issued a statement lauding the "rare magnitude and quality" of the Pebble deposit, while also justifying Anglo's plans to withdraw from the risky venture: "Our focus has been to prioritise capital to projects with the highest value and lowest risks within our portfolio, and reduce the capital required to sustain such projects during the pre-approval phases of development as part of a more effective, value-driven capital allocation model."
There is no question that Pebble Mine is a bad investment, replete with environmental, economic, operational, reputational, social, regulatory, and legal risks. Mitsubishi Corporation realized it in 2011 when it sold 100% of its interest in the Pebble project. Anglo American realized it only after spending $541 million trying to develop Pebble Mine.
Proposed at the headwaters of the world's greatest wild salmon fishery, Pebble Mine would threaten the region's internationally renowned salmon runs. Salmon are the economic, cultural, and ecological linchpin of the region, supporting a $1.5 billion annual commercial fishery that employ 14,000 workers. Salmon also sustain the culture, tradition, and spirituality of native communities that have relied on subsistence fishing for thousands of years, and they are food to a vast array of wildlife, including bears, eagles, seals and whales.
But no one should be misled into thinking that yesterday's announcement, while a huge blow to the project, means the fight to stop Pebble Mine is over. Far from it.
Northern Dynasty Minerals, now the sole owner of the project, immediately issued a press release reassuring anyone who will listen that plans to build Pebble Mine will move forward: "Northern Dynasty will again own 100% of one of the world's most important copper & gold resources and will have the benefit of $541 million worth of expenditures, which opens the door to a number of exciting possibilities for Northern Dynasty and its shareholders and the Pebble Project and its stakeholders. Northern Dynasty and the Pebble Partnership have both the expertise and resources necessary to advance the Pebble Project."
Notably, Rio Tinto owns almost 20 percent of Northern Dynasty's interest in Pebble Mine.
Despite its attempt to portray a silver lining, Northern Dynasty Minerals' stock plummeted approximately 30 percent today alone, following a 90 percent fall beginning in early 2011. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then this 5-day chart of Northern Dynasty's stock prices says it all:
NAK:NYSE MKT LLC
As of close Monday, 09/16/2013
Anglo's announcement comes at the same time groups opposed to Pebble Mine are celebrating the significant public opposition to the mine. An analysis of 895,195 public comments submitted to EPA regarding its Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment found that 73 percent of all comments were supportive of EPA protecting Bristol Bay, including 84 percent of individual comments from Alaska and a staggering 98 percent of individual comments from Bristol Bay residents. EPA issued a revised draft Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment earlier this year concluding that Pebble Mine would have "significant" and even "catastrophic" impacts -- including the certain dewatering, destruction, and pollution of the Bristol Bay watershed. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy visited the Bristol Bay region last month in order to learn more about Pebble Mine, where she heard a unanimous request from a capacity crowd in Dillingham, Alaska to stop the Pebble Mine.
While yesterday's announcement is a positive development, the fight to stop Pebble Mine must continue and, if possible, intensify. With Northern Dynasty Minerals' bulldozing ahead with plans for Pebble Mine, it remains critically important for EPA to take action under the Clean Water Act to permanently protect the fishery and water resources of Bristol Bay -- and the economic, environmental subsistence values that depend on those resources.
Click here and urge EPA to protect Bristol Bay.