Pebble Mine: Taking the Battle to the Board Room—Again
Bristol Bay Coalition Delivers Message of Unrelenting Opposition in Meetings with First Quantum Minerals in Toronto
Sometimes really bad ideas are hard to kill—especially these days.
Take, for example, the Pebble Mine, which Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) Administrator Scott Pruitt rescued from its deathbed last May after cutting a deal with the project’s CEO. And just like that this reckless project had a new lease on life—and a new pitch for potential investors.
Last week in Toronto, together with a formidable delegation of leaders from the distant Bristol Bay region of southwest Alaska, my NRDC colleague Chris Tackett and I attended the shareholders’ annual general meeting (“AGM”) of Canadian mining company First Quantum Minerals and met with its Chair and CEO. First Quantum, which draws 84% of its revenue from copper mines in Zambia, is looking to expand its operations to the United States by bankrolling the Pebble Mine—now solely owned by Northern Dynasty Minerals, a small Canadian mining exploration company based in Vancouver.
In December First Quantum provided $37.5 million to the cash-strapped project to finance a federal permit application and is now in negotiations over an option agreement to buy 50 percent of the project for $1.5 billion.
I’ve made similar trips before—to London in 2011 through 2014 to meet with Anglo American and Rio Tinto and, in 2010, to Tokyo to meet with Mitsubishi Corporation’s mining subsidiary. All three companies eventually abandoned the Pebble Mine, and we’re hoping now, with exposure to something other than Northern Dynasty’s self-serving propaganda, that First Quantum Minerals, too, will eventually see the light.
First Quantum Shareholder and CEO Meetings
As the first such trip to meet with First Quantum, it had special significance, since the company has little understanding of the broad-based opposition to the Pebble Mine in the Bristol Bay region. We joined with leaders of the $1.75 billion Native-owned developer Bristol Bay Native Corporation (“BBNC”), the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation (“BBEDC”), the Bristol Bay Native Association, United Tribes of Bristol Bay, the Bristol Bay Fisherman’s Association, Earthworks, Salmon State and Sea to Table.
It was an impressive delegation, to be sure, communicating the intensity of regional opposition that Pebble has generated for more than a decade among the people who live there. For the residents of Bristol Bay, salmon is life, and they passionately conveyed their unshakeable resolve never to allow their way of life to be put at risk—by First Quantum, Northern Dynasty, or anyone else. “We’re not looking for a fight with First Quantum,” said BBNC Chair Joe Chythlook and BBEDC Chair Robin Samuelson, “but we will fight you forever if we have to.”
Individual members of the group talked about the connection of salmon to their own personal histories and to the lives of their families—and the threat posed uniquely by the Pebble Mine. They acknowledged that Alaska is renowned as a development friendly state but described the circumstances that have contributed to making Pebble the most unpopular development project in Alaska’s history. As has been said so often by so many, First Quantum heard first hand that Pebble is “the wrong mine in the wrong place.”
On behalf of NRDC and its members (testimony included below), I stressed that the people of Bristol Bay don’t want or need this mine; that EPA’s peer-reviewed risk assessment has already documented the project’s potentially catastrophic harm; and that three of the largest mining companies in the world have already walked away. “Given all this,” I asked, “what will it take to convince First Quantum to stand down?”
After the meeting, the delegation presented First Quantum CEO Philip Pascall with over a quarter million petitions in opposition, including 100,000 from NRDC members and activists. We also highlighted the Globe and Mail full-page ad that morning, conveying the collective resolve of Pebble opponents in the region and elsewhere never to relent in our fight against the Pebble Mine: “FIRST QUANTUM, WE ARE PREPARED TO FIGHT FOREVER. ARE YOU?”
No Meeting of the Minds
Facilitated graciously by First Quantum staff, we then met privately with CEO Pascall and members of his team to discuss in a less formal setting the sentiments expressed publicly at the shareholder meeting—and to hear from him. He emphasized, first and foremost, that the company is not yet either “an investor or a partner” in the Pebble project and is considering only whether to secure an option to decide.
Without revealing specific comments made during the private meeting, it is fair to say that we heard several familiar Northern Dynasty talking points, including an unequivocal assurance that neither First Quantum nor the Army Corps would proceed if the salmon would be harmed. Since these are the very same words that every past Pebble-associated mining company has spoken—words that any mining applicant for any mine anywhere would necessarily endorse—it was clear to all of us by the end of the day that there is much work yet to be done before Bristol Bay will be safe from First Quantum Minerals.
A Historical Pattern of Injustice
Of course, there’s nothing new in such assurances to Native tribes, either in Bristol Bay about the Pebble Mine or, more broadly, throughout our history. Paternalistic promises of protection that eventually go unfulfilled as tribes have been deprived of their homelands or the resources that sustain their culture and way of life are as old as the hills. In the case of Pebble, it matters deeply that, by overwhelming numbers, the mine is neither wanted nor needed in Bristol Bay—home to a uniquely productive economic engine that generates 30 to 60 million wild salmon each summer, $1.5 billion in revenue, and 14,000 jobs. It is the world’s greatest wild salmon fishery, and Bristol Bay’s people are committed to its protection. They’ve said “no” to the Pebble Mine for years.
Thus far, First Quantum is listening only to Northern Dynasty, and neither is listening to the people of Bristol Bay. Disregarding the views of the people most directly affected is a questionable business model, but our greatest concern is that when something goes wrong at the Pebble Mine—as it eventually will despite the best intentions of its engineers, operators, or regulators—it is the people of Bristol Bay who will live with the consequences.
We’ve been here before, and we will be here for as long as it takes to protect Bristol Bay forever.
Testimony of Joel Reynolds, First Quantum Minerals Annual General Meeting of Shareholders, May 3, 2018
I’m Joel Reynolds, western director and senior attorney with the NRDC.
I’m pleased to be here in support of the people of Bristol Bay, on behalf of NRDC’s 3 million members and activists who have opposed the Pebble Mine for almost a decade.
NRDC is not anti-mining, and indeed First Quantum is justifiably proud of its record over many years.
We’re here because the Pebble Mine is different—opposed relentlessly in the region, unsupported by the science, censured by the World Conservation Congress, abandoned by three of the largest mining companies in the world.
It is a global pariah—one of the most widely condemned projects anywhere today.
And the reality is that, if First Quantum elects to continue its association with this project, it too will become a focus of that condemnation.
I’d like to emphasize three quick points and then pose a question:
First, the people of Bristol Bay are overwhelmingly opposed to the Pebble Mine—they don’t want it, and they don’t need it.
The BB watershed generates 30-60 million wild salmon a year, $1.5 billion in revenue, and 14,000 jobs. It is an irreplaceable economic engine, a national treasure, and a cultural homeland that depends on the salmon.
Just this past month, in hearings around the region, that singular opposition was demonstrated again by the people who live there, and it isn’t going to stop.
Second, the science has already been done:
EPA conducted a four year, twice-peer reviewed, publicly transparent scientific process concluding that large-scale mining would cause irreparable – potentially catastrophic – harm to the region.
The ACOE—which grants over 60,000 permits a year—will add nothing to change this verdict, eliminate unreasonable risk, or allay public concern.
Third, three of the largest mining companies in the world have already left the project—despite significant financial losses.
Mitsubishi, Anglo, and Rio withdrew after being persuaded that each had a better likelihood of making more for their shareholders, with less risk, sooner, somewhere else.
Even NDM has tried to sell but has found no takers.
So, my question is this:
What new information is First Quantum waiting for? What will it take to convince First Quantum to stand down?
If, as your sustainability report indicates, it’s a question of balance, we urge you to recognize that a balance, in this case, means allowing mining in many locations around the world but not in all locations—not in a location like the headwaters of BB, where the people don’t want it, the environmental costs don’t allow it, and the opposition will never give up.
This project is fraught with financial and reputational risk that will disserve the long-term interests of your shareholders.
First Quantum can do better.
Mr. Chairman, with your indulgence, we would like to present you following the meeting with a quarter of a million petitions in opposition to the Pebble Mine, as well as a copy of the full-page ad addressed to First Quantum this morning in The Globe and Mail.