Alaska: Leaked tapes reveal Pebble Mine dirty tricks

Alaska mining executive resigned

Published by MAC on 2020-09-24
Source: EIA, Washington Post (2020-09-24)

A direct line to the White House routed through a third party to hide it from public view. Easy access to Alaska’s governor, as well as the state’s two U.S. senators. A successful push to unseat nine Republican state lawmakers who opposed their plans to build a massive gold and copper mine — the biggest in North America — near Bristol Bay in Alaska. Those were some of the boasts made by two top executives of a company trying to build the Pebble Mine in videotapes secretly recorded by an environmental group and made public Monday.

The Pebble Tapes are a series of recorded conversations between EIA investigators and the Chief Executive Officers of Pebble Limited Partnership and Northern Dynasty Minerals. The tapes are organized by topic and edited for brevity within each topic. To learn more, read the Press Release.

Reporter Lindsay Moran from the Environmental Investigation Agency described the tapes as “a rare glimpse into a mining company’s private discussions”. Rare indeed, as experienced in Esquel (Argentina) back in 2006, when Minera El Desquite, subsidiary of Meridian Gold, launched a legal action in Buenos Aires against six assembly members. They had aired a recording of a meeting among advisors and leadership of Meridian held in September 2003, at which they strategized to conspire against this community and “to twist the people’s decision” that had clearly rejected gold mining based on its serious social and environmental impacts”.

During the meeting, Meridian personnel revealed their connections with various candidates who ran for Governor of Chubut Province; they also mentioned their contacts with Ministers and other representatives of the national government. They also talked about using their employees and their families to influence community meetings.

See Argentina: The Mining Company Takes “no To The Mine” To Court (2006)
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Pebble Mine Tape Reveal Plans to Build Massive 180-Year Mine at the Headwaters of Bristol Bay in Alaska

https://eia-global.org/press-releases/20200921-pebble-mine-tapes

September 21, 2020

Washington DC — Today the Washington DC-based non-profit the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) released recordings of conversations between EIA investigators and executives of Pebble Limited Partnership and Northern Dynasty Minerals (Pebble), the companies behind the contested Pebble Mine project in Alaska. The recordings, which EIA has dubbed “The Pebble Tapes,” reveal Pebble’s plans to build a large and long-lived mine at the headwaters of Bristol Bay in western Alaska.

The tapes also reveal Pebble’s apparent plans to use the infrastructure included in its mine plan to open up other expansive swathes of western Alaska to mining, including through the activation of the Donlin Mine, a project that already has federal permits and could become economically viable overnight if the Pebble project is approved.

Tom Collier, the CEO of Pebble Limited Partnership, and Ronald Thiessen, the president and CEO of Northern Dynasty, of which Pebble is a wholly-owned subsidiary, spoke with EIA investigators during August and September after the investigators expressed interest in investment opportunities related to the Pebble project. Their conversations, which were recorded, contain multiple statements by Collier and Thiessen that contradict, or in some instances color, previous public statements by company executives as well as assertions in official company materials that Pebble is intended to be only a small 20-year mine, as described in the Clean Water Act permit application for the project.

Statements made by Collier in the recordings also call into question the Congressional testimony he submitted on behalf of Pebble regarding the company’s plans for expansion. In October 2019, Collier submitted written testimony to the House Subcommittee on Water Resources and the Environment stating that, “Pebble has planned a smaller, smarter mine” and that it has “no current plans, in its application or in any other way, for expansion.”

The proposal from Pebble considered in the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is for an operations phase for the mine that would last for 20 years with a daily process rate of 180,000 tons. The EIA recordings capture a different version of Pebble’s plans indicating that the company envisions a project with a 180-200 year mine life, and with expansion after the first 20 years, including an expected increase in daily production rates to between 220,000 and 320,000 tons.

EIA Executive Director Alexander von Bismarck said, “These tapes show that potential investors are given an entirely different vision for this massive mine than the government and the public. We think that is important information to release. The public, and especially the people of Alaska, should know about the scope of a project with permanent impacts on one of the most pristine ecosystems on Earth.”

When asked by investigators if growth of the mine past the scale currently applied for would be “unstoppable,” Thiessen simply said “Yes.” Then he explained further: “Once you have something like this in production why would you want to stop? And even, at the end of the day its footprint is so tiny. If we mined the whole valley it’s 25 square miles.” In another conversation, Thiessen asked, “Who’s gonna stop a mine that has 180— at a 160,000 metric tons per day, the first deposit that we’ve discovered at Pebble – and there will be more – but the first one lasts 180 years.”

In response to a question from EIA about expansion after the first 20 years Collier characterized the likelihood of expansion as almost 100%. He also explained how the recently-approved “northern corridor route” facilitates expansion, stating: “And so now we’re going to be building a northern corridor. We’ll have a slurry pipeline as part of it so the concentrate will go down to the coast by pipeline. And it makes a lot of things easier for us. It makes expansion much easier.”

Pebble also told EIA that it plans to submit an application for expansion after the permit now being considered by the Army Corps of Engineers, is approved. Thiessen confirmed, “during that twenty years, you’re gonna make the application to continue for another twenty.”

Similarly, Thiessen shared with EIA its interest in developing additional mines in the area saying, “Now Pebble itself has…425 square miles of mineral claims, and so there could be more mines on the Pebble lands over time…We have other sites that we’ve drilled into and we have ore-grade mineralization in other areas in that 425 square miles but we don’t talk about it too much because right now we want people to focus on only Pebble…”

Pebble also confirmed its interest in using the infrastructure that will be put in place as part of the Pebble project to facilitate activation of the Donlin mine. According to Thiessen, the Donlin mine is economically unviable unless it can use the roads and pipelines that will be built by Pebble to export its ore. Thiessen explained, “There is another project that’s 175 miles north of Pebble. It’s called the Donlin Project… …there is a lot of logic to us joining forces to make a single corridor.” Collier also weighed in stating, “if you flip the Pebble switch on, it’s likely that you may be also flipping on the Donlin switch.”

“While the public is told this is a 20-year project, investors are told it will go for up to 200 years. While the public is told it will be 5 square miles, investors are told that it could spread over the entire valley and literally pave the way for other mines, hundreds of miles away,” said von Bismarck.

The Pebble Tapes cover discussions between EIA investigators and Pebble on a number of other topics including: the Alaska Governor, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Northern Corridor, Alaska senators, Alaska politics, corporate structure, water treatment, Trump Administration and EPA veto.


Alaska mining executive resigns a day after being caught on tape boasting of his ties to GOP politicians

Tom Collier, who stood to get a $12.4 million bonus if Pebble Mine went ahead, resigned in the wake of secretly recorded talks with environmentalists posing as potential investors.

By Juliet Eilperin

https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/2020/09/23/pebble-mine-secret-tapes

September 23, 2020

Mining executive Tom Collier, who boasted in secretly taped conversations that he had leveraged his ties to Republican officials to advance a controversial project in Alaska, resigned Wednesday.

Collier, CEO of the Pebble Limited Partnership, offered his resignation a day after the group Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) released recordings of Zoom calls in which he talked of currying favor with the White House and Alaska lawmakers to win federal approval for a massive gold and copper mine.

Collier and Ronald Thiessen, CEO of the Canadian parent company, Northern Dynasty Minerals, were recorded separately suggesting that GOP politicians would not block Pebble Mine even though some had raised concerns about its environmental impact.

Collier, who served as chief of staff to then-Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt under President Bill Clinton, stood to receive $12.4 million in bonuses if the federal government approved a key permit for the mine and it could be upheld in court. Speaking to EIA investigators, who were posing as possible investors in the project, he touted his effort to funnel money to Republican politicians in Alaska and defeat those who sided with Democrats against the mine.

“I’ve supported all the Republican candidates in the state,” said Collier, who is registered as an independent. “I meet with the two senators, the congressman, the governor on a regular basis and they welcome me as someone they know supports the Republican Party.”

“Now, having said that, it’s entirely possible that we may have [former vice president Joe] Biden as a president, and if we do, I’m gonna brush off my Democratic credentials and start using them a little more actively than I do,” he added.

After the tapes became public Tuesday, several politicians mentioned by Collier and Thiessen in the recordings sought to distance themselves from the men. A spokesman for Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy (R) said, “The individuals in those videos embellished their relationships with state and federal officials at all levels.” Officials at the Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency also said the comments in the tapes did not accurately reflect their agencies’ interactions with Collier and Thiessen.

In the statement, Northern Dynasty Minerals said Collier “has submitted his resignation in light of comments made about elected and regulatory officials in Alaska in private conversations covertly videotaped by an environmental activist group.”

A wide range of critics — including Alaska Natives, environmentalists and many anglers, such as the president’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr.; the vice president’s former chief of staff, Nick Ayers; and Fox News host Tucker Carlson — have opposed the proposed mine out of concern that waste from the operation could pollute Bristol Bay. The waters, in southwest Alaska, are home to the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery.

Within a matter of weeks, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers could grant a permit for the mine. While the agency found in late July that the project would have “no measurable effect” on the area’s fish populations, it informed Pebble Limited Partnership last month that it had to do more to show how it would offset the more than 100 miles of streams and 2,300 acres of wetlands it would permanently destroy.

Thiessen, who was caught on tape disparaging GOP Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan of Alaska, offered an apology Wednesday but did not step down from his post.

“The unethical manner in which these tapes were acquired does not excuse the comments that were made, or the crass way they were expressed,” Thiessen said. “On behalf of the company and our employees, I offer my unreserved apology to all those who were hurt or offended, and all Alaskans.”

Chris Wood, president of the conservation group Trout Unlimited, said in a phone interview that Collier’s resignation marked a blow for a project that does not deserve federal approval.

“Tom Collier is a fall guy for a project that is fundamentally flawed and has essentially been a flimflam operation from the very beginning,” Wood said. “From the beginning, it has been an exercise in obfuscation. They took more than a dozen years to get an application together, and then they lied about the scope and scale of the potential project — either to Congress or to investors. But no matter how you slice it, they lied.”

In the taped conversations, Thiessen and Collier suggested that while they were seeking a permit for a 20-year operation, it might expand and last for as long as 180 years. In Wednesday’s statement, Thiessen left open the possibility that they could apply for additional permits to extend the scope and duration of the mining operation.

“What we have said consistently, and is reinforced in the ‘Pebble tapes’ released this week, is the operator of the Pebble mine may decide at some point in the future to propose additional phases of development, but there exists no formal plan to do so today,” he said.

Pebble Limited Partnership has named former chief executive John Shively as interim CEO.


In secret tapes, mine executives detail their sway over leaders from Juneau to the White House

Video recordings by the Environmental Investigation Agency shed light on an effort to win a key federal permit for Pebble Mine.

By Juliet Eilperin

https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/2020/09/22/pebble-mine-secret-tapes/

September 23, 2020

A direct line to the White House, but routed through a third party to hide it from public view. Easy access to Alaska’s governor, as well as the state’s two U.S. senators. A successful push to unseat nine Republican state lawmakers who opposed their plan to build a massive gold and copper mine — the biggest in North America — near Bristol Bay in Alaska.

Those were some of the boasts made by two top executives of a company trying to build the Pebble Mine in videotapes secretly recorded by an environmental group and made public Monday. It was a rare glimpse into the private discussions surrounding the company’s heated campaign to win federal permits for the project, which environmentalists say will destroy a pristine part of Alaska and decimate its world-famous sockeye salmon fishery.

The conversations were secretly recorded over the past month and a half by the nonprofit Environmental Investigation Agency. Posing as potential investors in the mine, EIA investigators conducted Zoom calls in which the mine’s sponsors detailed how they sought to curry favor with elected politicians from Juneau to Washington, D.C.

The tapes feature separate conversations with two key men behind the project — Roland Thiessen, chief executive of the Canadian-based Northern Dynasty Minerals, and Tom Collier, chief executive of its U.S. subsidiary, Pebble Limited Partnership.

Within a matter of weeks, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers could grant a permit for the mine. While the agency found in late July that the project would have “no measurable effect” on the area’s fish populations, last month it informed Pebble Limited Partnership that it had to do more to show how it would offset the damage caused by the operation.

But even as the executives jump through several regulatory hoops, they are focused on wooing Republican politicians. In the taped conversations, they detailed their plan to manage all the decision-makers.

Thiessen described both of the state’s Republican U.S. senators, Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, as politicians who might make noises about the project to appear sensitive to environmental concerns but ultimately won’t stand in their way. “It’s an age-old practice where when you have constituents, you have important people who support you on two sides of an issue, all right, you try to find a way to satisfy them both,” he said in the recording.

He noted that Murkowski declined to move a bill that would have barred the federal government from permitting the mine. Instead, she included language in a spending bill that raised some questions about Pebble Mine but did not hinder it. “She says things that don’t sound supportive of Pebble, but when it comes time to vote, when it comes time to do something, she never does anything to hurt Pebble, okay?” Thiessen said.

At a different point in the tapes, Collier said both senators misinterpreted the letter the Corps sent last month and are now embarrassed. “So right now, they’re just sort of sitting over in a corner and being quiet, okay?”

The senior senator from Alaska was not amused.

“Let me be clear: I did not misunderstand the Army Corps’ recent announcement,” she said in a statement. “I am not ‘embarrassed’ by my statement on it, and I will not be ‘quiet in the corner.’ I am dead set on a high bar for large-scale resource development in the Bristol Bay watershed. The reality of this situation is the Pebble project has not met that bar and a permit cannot be issued to it.”

Neither was Sullivan. “Any suggestion otherwise is either wishful thinking, a blatant mischaracterization, or a desperate attempt to secure funding for a mine that cannot move forward,” he said. “This incident demonstrates how far Mr. Collier, who has serious credibility problems of his own, is floundering in the face of this project’s overwhelming challenges.”

An unusual coalition of Alaska Natives, conservationists and some famous anglers who enjoy fishing in Bristol Bay — including the president’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., the vice president’s former chief of staff, Nick Ayers, and Fox News host Tucker Carlson — have opposed the plan out of concern that waste from the operation could pollute the waters of southwest Alaska.

Jason Metrokin, president and CEO of Bristol Bay Native Corp., assailed the companies in a phone interview and accused them of hypocrisy.

“They’ll tell anyone what they want to hear based on whatever they think will move the needle for the Pebble Limited Partnership,” he said. “Now I think the public, at least those who have seen the tapes, they’re seeing behind the curtain now.”

In a statement Monday evening, Collier said he had not had time to review the tapes but that “there are some pretty questionable ethics at play” given that the individuals making the recordings disguised their identities.

A spokesman for Collier said he “regrets the way he conveyed their influence and importance” of the two senators.

Both Collier and Thiessen detail in the recordings how they have raised money for Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy (R).

Collier, who worked as chief of staff to Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt during the Clinton administration, said that he registered as an independent in Alaska but was “a well-known Republican fundraiser” in the state. He describes how he helped lead a successful effort to defeat nine state GOP legislators last election because they worked with Democrats and did not support Pebble Mine.

“Now, having said that, it’s entirely possible that we may have [former vice president Joe] Biden as a president, and if we do, I’m gonna brush off my Democratic credentials and start using them a little more actively than I do,” he added.

Collier will get a roughly $4 million bonus if the mine receives a favorable Record of Decision from the Corps and another $8.4 million if the permit can withstand a legal challenge.

Thiessen, for his part, explained to EIA investigators how he and his colleagues have ready access to Trump’s chief of staff but use Dunleavy’s office as a conduit.

“I mean, we can talk to the chief of staff of the White House any time we want. You want to be careful with all this because it’s all recorded,” Thiessen said. “It’s not that they tape the call, it’s just that it’s recorded that ‘He had a call with Tom Collier, the CEO of Pebble Limited Partnership.’ You don’t want to be seen to be trying to exercise undue influence. It’s better for us if we want to push that envelope that Tom talks to the governor of the state of Alaska and the governor of the state of Alaska picks up the phone and calls the chief of staff to the White House, yes.”

Asked about the secret recordings, Dunleavy’s office said: “The statements made in the videos by representatives from Northern Dynasty and the Pebble Limited Partnership, as assembled by an environmental group, misrepresent the Dunleavy administration’s role and stance on the Pebble Project. The individuals in those videos embellished their relationships with state and federal officials at all levels. Any claims that Governor Dunleavy contacted White House administration officials on behalf of that company are false.”

The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

Other parts of the recordings are more substantive than political. The company is seeking a permit for a 20-year operation, but Thiessen outlined in the recordings how it could last for another 160 years and eventually double its output. “Once you have something like this in production why would you want to stop?”

Alexander von Bismarck, executive director of the Environmental Investigation Agency, said in a phone interview that the mine’s sponsors had deliberately downplayed the project’s impact.

“Seeing that the private opinion of that company that their massive plans will be unstoppable once the first artificially sized permit is passed, that is critical information for the public to know before the final decision is made,” said von Bismarck, whose D.C.-based group is funded by such foundations as the Wildlife Conservation Network, American Endowment Foundation and ClimateWorks Foundation. “Because it clearly may have permanent impacts on an almost priceless resource for Alaska.”

Collier did not dispute the idea that the company could expand the mine, though he said it has no immediate plans to do so and would have to apply for additional permits if it did. “I can tell you what we’ve seen reported in these tapes thus far is not inconsistent with the position that Northern Dynasty and the Pebble Partnership have taken for the past several years,” he said.

But at least one Senate Democrat, Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), said in an interview that the tapes raise questions about whether Pebble Mine officials misled Congress.

“If what appears to be the case — that they painted one picture in congressional testimony and a completely different picture to investors — then it really calls into question whether they were lying to Congress or not, which is a crime,” Heinrich said, adding it could also provide fodder for a lawsuit if the Corps approves the operation. “It potentially calls into question the legitimacy of the permit.”

Desmond Butler contributed to this report.

SOURCE: http://www.minesandcommunities.org/article.php?a=14385

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