Opponents of the Pebble Mine project—which would see a monstrous gold, copper, and molybdenum mine built in the breeding ground of the last great wild salmon run, in Alaka’s Bristol Bay—received some welcome news today when mining giant Anglo American announced that it was pulling out of the project. An article in today’s Anchorage Daily News quotes company CEO Mark Cutfani, explaining the decision:
Despite our belief that Pebble is a deposit of rare magnitude and quality, we have taken the decision to withdraw following a thorough assessment of Anglo American’s extensive pipeline of long-dated project options,” he said in a written statement. “Our focus has been to prioritize capital to projects with the highest value and lowest risks within our portfolio.”
Cutfani’s statement aside, it’s hard not to see this decision as a reaction to the massive public outpouring of opposition the project has faced. New numbers released today by the Environmental Protection Agency support this theory. Nearly three out of four Americans who commented on the agency’s draft Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment supported protecting Bristol Bay from harmful mining development in the form of the Pebble Mine. An even more powerful message came from Alaskans: some 84% of commenters from the Last Frontier opposed the project. In the Bristol Bay region, that number rose to an astonishing 98%.
Tim Bristol, Director for Trout Unlimited’s Alaska Program, responded to the news with cautious optimisms, and he called for the EPA to take this opportunity to protect the land for good.
I can’t think of a development project in the state’s history that has faced such wide and deep opposition from the citizens of Alaska, and so it’s no surprise that Anglo American announced its plans to abandon the Pebble project after 84% of Alaskans who commented to the EPA supported action to protect Bristol Bay. Bristol Bay is one of the greatest sport and commercial fishing habitats on the planet, and the EPA should act now to protect it and the more than 14,000 jobs it supports.
Although the withdrawal of Anglo American from the Pebble Limited Partnership offers a reason for hope, now is not the time to declare victory. The Pebble Partnership was a 50-50 deal between Anglo American and Northern Dynasty, which vows to continue with the project.