Mining giant Rio Tinto has donated its 19.1 percent share in Canadian-based Northern Dynasty Minerals to two Alaska groups: the Alaska Community Foundation and the Bristol Bay Native Corporation Education Foundation. In December 2013, Rio Tinto announced a strategic review of its investment in Northern Dynasty, after pressure to divest came from administrators of two large pension funds in California and New York City that have substantial shares in Rio Tinto.
Rio Tinto's share of Northern Dynasty will be divided equally between the two charities, representing the first time local organizations have held any financial interest in the Pebble prospect. Chief executive Jean-Sebastien Jacques stated that giving the shares ensured that "Alaskans will have a say in Pebble's future development, and that any economic benefit supports Alaska's ability to attract investment that creates jobs."
How this ownership interest will affect development of the proposed Pebble mine is yet to be understood. Northern Dynasty Minerals CEO Ron Thiessen said in a press release that he looks forward to meeting the leadership of the two groups 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."
The Alaska Community Foundation mission is to "cultivate, celebrate and sustain all forms of philanthropy to strengthen Alaska's communities forever." Since 2008, it has administered the Pebble Fund, a grant-funded initiative by the Pebble Limited Partnership to invest up to $5 million toward programs that would "enhance the health of Bristol Bay fisheries and contribute to a sustainable economic future in southwest Alaska."
Bristol Bay Native Corporation Education Foundation is a nonprofit organization providing higher and vocational education scholarships to shareholders of Bristol Bay Native Corporation (BBNC) as part of its mission to "provide support for an encourage shareholders to pursue educational opportunities and to promote and preserve cultural heritage." The Education Foundation is organizationally separate from BBNC, which has a stated position opposing the development of Pebble mine.
Powerful funds urge Rio Tinto to cut and run from Pebble (Alaska Dispatch, December 20, 2013)
Following lead of Anglo-American, Rio Tinto leaves Pebble project (Alaska Dispatch, April 7, 2014)
EPA's Section 404(c) announcement and resulting subpoena dominates national news on Pebble; at the state level, public response stalls House Bill 77, while a judgment stalls the "Save our Salmon" initiative.
Responses to EPA's 404(c) decision
EPA's decision to use its authority under the Clean Water Act to pursue protections for Bristol Bay was met with positive reactions from some - and a subpoena from others.
Leaders, Stakeholders React After EPA's Pebble Mine Announcement (February 28, 2014 - Alaska Dispatch)
Many had been waiting to see how EPA would respond to Tribes that had requested a 404(c) action to protect Bristol Bay. When the EPA announced that it would indeed initiate the rarely-used 404(c) process, there were mixed reactions. Rounded up here by the Alaska Dispatch, they range from "federal overreach on steroids" (Alaska State Senator Cathy Giessel) to the first steps in a "significant conservation achievement" (Trout Unlimited President Chris Wood). Read the full story.
Pictures: Photographer Who Shot Bristol Bay Celebrates Halt of Pebble Mine (March 2, 2014 - National Geography Daily News)
National Geographic piece features Michael Melford's compelling photos of Bristol Bay, along with his reaction to the EPA's 404(c) announcement. Read the full story.
EPA Tells Miners to Keep Out of Alaska's Bristol Bay and They Aren't Buying It (February 28, 2014 - Business Week online)
Business Week report includes comments from Pebble Limited Partnership CEO Tom Collier, who said EPA's 404(c) action is "insignificant" and that he believes the process "will ultimately not prevent him from developing the Pebble Mine." Read the full story.
Issa Subpoenas EPA for Pebble Mine Documents (March 21, 2014 - House Committee press release)
The U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform has subpoenaed the EPA for documents related to its Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment and subsequent announcement that it is beginning a process under Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act to seek protections for Bristol Bay. Read the full story.
Pebble Watch has published a special edition focusing on the U.S. EPA and Bristol Bay. The newsletter offers an impartial resource for understanding the agency's Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment and ongoing 404(c) process.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has granted the State of Alaska and the Pebble Limited Partnership (PLP) an extension to the "consultation period," one of the first steps in the official 404(c) process the agency initiated to protect the Bristol Bay fishery. The extension lasts until April 29, 2014, an additional 45-days beyond the minimum 15-day window for this stage in the process.
The extension falls short of what the State had requested, which was to stay the 404(c) review completely until a permit application could be filed and reviewed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers under the Clean Water Act and National Environmental Policy Act. In letters to the State and to PLP, EPA clarified that a permit application can be filed and reviewed, but that “a permit for the Pebble Mine may not be issued while a section 404(c) review is underway.”
What is the "consultation period"?
The consultation period gives project proponents the opportunity to demonstrate to EPA that no unacceptable adverse effects will occur in the Pebble deposit area. "The first step in this process is to reach out to the state, to the mining companies and to the Army Corps and to ask them for whatever information they want to provide," said EPA Chief Administrator Gina McCarthy during the February 28 press conference announcing the decision too use the 404(c) process.
"EPA put out a scientific assessment that's been peer reviewed at least a few times by a range of scientists who worked with the agency to make sure it was comprehensive," said McCarthy. "That doesn't mean that the science is a final tool for this agency... We're still open...This is all about getting more information in and making sure we listen to the full range of issues and concerns and ideas that the company might have, that the state might have, that the Army Corps might have available to it."
About Pebble Watch
Pebble Watch is an impartial, educational and fact-based initiative of the BBNC Land Department to disseminate information regarding the proposed Pebble Mine project to BBNC shareholders and interested parties.