WASHINGTON – April 7, 2014. Alaska Daily News reported today that mining giant Rio Tinto is pulling out of the Pebble mine project in Alaska.
The Pebble mine project is a controversial plan to build an open pit mine in Alaska.
The plan is controversial because the mine is sited in the best wild salmon waters in the world.
Ginger Tornes, occasional Alaska correspondent for WCRX-LP, Bexley Public Radio Foundation, expressed satisfaction with the development. Tornes is an Alaska resident, spending the winter in Bexley with her family. She also commented that the Alaska EPA was very slow in taking regulatory action regarding the mining project.
The ADN also reports that Rio Tinto will donate its ownership share in the project to a pair of Alaskan non-profits, the Alaska Community Foundation and the Bristol Bay Native Corp. Education Foundation.
ADN also reported that the mining company explained its action: "the Pebble Project does not fit with Rio Tinto's strategy."
Rio Tinto's decision might be a response to growing belief that the Alaska Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is moving closer to blocking the mine. ADN also reported EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy saying that the Pebble mine project would "likely have significant and irreversible negative impacts on the salmon of Bristol Bay." McCarthy said her agency would decide on action to protect the salmon under the Clean Water Act, which could lead to a veto of the project.
The British Anglo American mining enterprise pulled out of the Pebble project last year.
Rio Tinto offered further explanation for its action: "By giving our shares to two respected Alaskan charities, we are ensuring that Alaskans will have a say in Pebble's future development," said Rio Tinto Copper Chief Executive Jean-Sebastien Jacques.
ADN reported that the charitable foundations that received the ownership interests will each receive half of Rio Tinto's 19 percent share in Northern Dynasty Minerals, the Canadian company whose principal asset is Pebble.
The Bristol Bay Native Corp. Education Foundation said "Rio Tinto's gift will benefit organizations that serve the people and communities of Alaska."
Executive Director Greta Goto said the shares would help the foundation to support educational opportunities for shareholders in the Bristol Bay Native Corp, which represents the interests of Alaska Natives from the area around the proposed mine.
The Bristol Bay Native Corp., though, has been among the fiercest opponents of the Pebble mine. It now suddenly has a stake in the project's success.
ADN reported that Bristol Native Corporation officials said in an interview that the education foundation is managed separately from the corporation as a whole and has its own distinct mission.
"This gift provides an example of what open discussion and relationship building between stakeholders with differing views can accomplish," said Bristol Bay Native Corp. President Jason Metrokin. "However, BBNC's opposition to the proposed Pebble mine has not changed."
The Alaska Community Foundation said its shares would go to create a new fund for supporting vocational education programs, with a focus on building worker skills for resource development industries.
Foundation CEO Candace Winkler said the foundation first heard from Rio Tinto about a week ago. She said she is excited about the possibilities, regardless of the controversy over the mine.
"We understand this is a complex issue and that people have strong feelings on both sides," she said. "We looked it as an opportunity to be involved in workforce development."
ADN did not report on the financial value of the shares donated to the nonprofits. Northern Dynasty's stock value has faltered with the continual problems experienced by the Pebble project. The stock fell another 5 percent on Monday at the news that Rio Tinto was pulling out of the project.
Some major investors in Rio Timto, including the pension funds of California and New York City. wrote to Rio Tinto explaining that it was risking its reputation with involvement in the Pebble mine. The chief financial officers of those pension funds explained their position in a December letter.
The Natural Resources Defense Council hailed Rio Tinto's move as a big step toward the end of the project.
"Rio Tinto's decision is the latest demonstration that the Pebble Mine is economically and environmentally infeasible, even for the largest mining companies in the world," said Joel Reynolds, the western director for the environmental group.
Gov. Sean Parnell, in a written statement, criticized the EPA.
"It's disheartening to see a company like Rio Tinto take its business elsewhere as a result of the current federal regulatory environment," Parnell said.
ADN reported that the Pebble mining project ranks among the largest undeveloped copper deposits in the world and Northern Dynasty Minerals is vowing to push on despite all the problems.
Anglo American's departure from the project left Northern Dynasty without the necessary financial backing to construct the mine.
ADN also reported that Northern Dynasty is searching for a new partner. Northern Dynasty said it will work with the two Alaska foundations that are now major shareholders in one of the most controversial development projects in the history of the Alaska.
Northern Dynasty President Ron Thiessen said his company had previously worked with the Alaska Community Foundation on the Pebble Fund, a grant program for organizations in the Bristol Bay region.
"We look forward to meeting with the leadership of the Alaska Community Foundation and Bristol Bay Native Corp. Education Foundation in the days ahead to better understand their long-term goals and aspirations, and how their ownership interest in Northern Dynasty and the Pebble Project can make the greatest possible contribution to the people and communities they serve," Thiessen said in a written statement.
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