Alaskan Red Gold still under threat from UK mining company
Anglo American Plc promised not to build the controversial Pebble Mine if local Alaskan residents are against it. Today, a large majority of them are yet still the proposals move forward.
ANCHORAGE, Alaska – Alaskan political, business, and community leaders on Earth Day will challenge Anglo American to explain why it continues to spend millions on a mining project despite fierce local opposition and its own CEO's public promise to "not go where communities are against us."
The strong local opposition is based on Anglo American and its Canadian partner's plans to build the proposed Pebble Mine in the headwaters of Alaska's Bristol Bay – spawning habitat for the most valuable wild sockeye salmon runs on Earth. The wild salmon are a major source of jobs and revenue, and the heart of local Native cultures.
Their stiffening opposition, unusual in the pro-development state, against what could be one of the world's largest open pit mines has garnered significant international support, including major jewelry retailers like Zales and Tiffany & Co, as well as large class ring manufacturers.
Anglo American officials, who already have spent $323 million on the mine project and who will spend millions more on it this year, have promised that such strong local disapproval would lead them to not continue with its development of the Pebble Mine.
In an interview last year, Anglo American CEO Cynthia Carroll promised “if I’m not satisfied we can proceed without harm to the local people and the environment, then we simply won’t do it."
Carroll’s statements echoed a promise she and a former Anglo American board chairman gave to Alaskans in April of last year.
“When we met with CEO Cynthia Carroll and former board chairman Sir Mark Moody, they told us Anglo American would not develop Pebble Mine if local people did not want it,” said Bobby Andrew, who attended the meeting in London. Andrew is a spokesman for Nunamta Aulukestai, a Native organization representing eight tribal villages in Bristol Bay.
In September, a poll revealed that most Alaska Natives who live in Bristol Bay are opposed to the proposed Pebble project. The poll results came just a few months before a regional corporation, which controls large land holdings surrounding the proposed mine and represents local Native residents, passed a resolution opposing the Pebble Mine.
“Why are we ignored?” Andrew asked. “The vast majority of local residents refuse to give up our wild salmon to make mining companies rich.”
Despite the obvious risks and the fierce local opposition to the mine, Anglo American and its partners are forging ahead with the mine proposal.
Permit applications for the Pebble Mine could be filed as early as next year. With gold selling at record highs of up to $1,200 an ounce the incentive for the mining giant to forge ahead is greater than ever.
However, the company has suffered financial setbacks because of the economic recession in the U.S. and Europe. Securing billions of dollars in capital in a tight credit market is increasingly difficult. And additional challenges are mounting:
- Politically significant commercial and sport fishing industries oppose the mine.
- Alaska lawmakers are considering tightening the state’s mine permitting rules.
- Anglo American has been fined for repeated water use violations.
- The U.S. Department of the Interior recently withdrew its consideration Bristol Bay for offshore oil and gas drilling, calling the bay “a national treasure.” Agency officials also could bar mining on lands it manages near the Pebble deposit.
- Legal challenges are piling up.
- And an investor advisory released last year by mine opponents detailed a long list of potential risks.