Pebble CEO Tom Collier fails to mention immovable Alaskan opposition and his own multi-million dollar bonus if Canadian-owned mining project gets quick federal permit.
Displaying an astonishing lack of self-awareness—or perhaps simply hoping no one would notice—Pebble Partnership CEO and long-time Washington, D.C. lawyer Tom Collier this week attacked opponents of the massive proposed mining project for their continuing opposition, asserting that “they choose Alaska primarily because they don’t have to suffer the backlash from the economic impact of the project being killed because no one gives a rat’s ass what happens in Alaska.”
Call it psychological projection or just another self-serving misrepresentation by the Pebble Partnership, but the facts tell a very different story:
First, the broad-based opposition to the Pebble Mine has always—literally for decades—been led by an unprecedented coalition of Alaskans: tribes, village corporations, businesses, commercial fishermen, recreational fisherman, lodge-owners, hunters, and conservationists. The reason for this opposition, simply stated, is the unacceptable and unavoidable risk that the Pebble project poses, by its location in the headwaters of the Bristol Bay watershed, to the region’s wild-salmon based economy—generating $1.5 billion a year in revenue and 14,000 jobs. Last summer alone, the Bristol Bay fishery generated a record 62 million wild salmon.
Within the Bristol Bay region, opposition to the project remains at over 80 percent, with the latest state-wide poll showing 61 percent opposed across Alaska.
Second, despite this extraordinary level of sustained opposition, the overriding imperative for Collier himself—and for the Canadian company Northern Dynasty Minerals that hired him to run their embattled project—is to get a federal permit as quickly as possible, whether the people who live there want it or not. Northern Dynasty’s hope, if a permit can be secured, is to entice a buyer for the project (or at least a major funding partner) to replace the parade of major mining companies that have already walked away—Mitsubishi in 2011, Anglo American in 2013, Rio Tinto in 2014, and First Quantum Minerals in 2018. Northern Dynasty has itself been trying unsuccessfully to sell its interest since 2011.
Third, Collier has a powerful personal financial incentive to fast-track permitting of the Pebble Mine. In addition to his reported salary in 2017 of CAN $2,357,744, and in addition to the fact, according to Bloomberg, that he is Northern Dynasty’s 35th largest shareholder, he stands to receive an “extraordinary bonus” of $12.5 million if the project receives a positive Record of Decision from the Army Corps of Engineers within four years of the date of permit application. Even if the permit is ultimately overturned by a court, he is entitled to receive 35 percent of that bonus—or $4.375 million.
And Collier isn’t the only Pebble executive with an exceptional personal financial interest in its success:
Northern Dynasty’s Chief Executive Ron Thiessen—based in Canada—received a salary of CAN $2,118,486 in 2017, and, according to Bloomberg, he is the company’s 7th largest shareholder. Robert Dickinson—also Canadian—is Northern Dynasty’s Chairman of the Board and in that capacity received $339,570 in 2017; according to Bloomberg, he is Northern Dynasty’s 6th largest shareholder.
As far as “giving a rat’s ass” for what Alaskans may think, Collier has in recent years himself dismissed the Alaskan opposition to the Pebble project, opposed the petitions by Alaskan tribes and others for EPA review of the Pebble Mine, and rejected as “a red herring” the Alaskan requests for an extension of the public comment period for review of the DEIS. Because Pebble Mine’s owner Northern Dynasty has no reason to exist other than to advance its Pebble prospect, don’t look for it to care about anything other than fast-tracking permitting, much less whatever concerns or objections Alaskans and, in particular, the people of Bristol Bay may have.
Tom Collier is no one to trust with Alaska’s future. To be sure, he has an obvious interest in Bristol Bay today as the location—for better or worse—of the Pebble Mine—and an obvious reticence to acknowledge his own financial interest in advancing the project as quickly as he can. But don’t be surprised when he takes the money and runs—and leaves the people of Bristol Bay with the nightmare of keeping billions of tons of contaminated mining waste away from the most productive wild salmon fishery on Earth.