Pebble Mine Continues to Lose Support

It was recently announced that a mining company, Rio Tinto, plans to pull out of the Pebble Mine project. Rio Tinto was one of the last large mining companies with remaining investment in the mine, owning a 19% share. Rio Tinto is not the first major company to retract support- last September the Anglo-American Corporation, with a 50% share in the mine, withdrew itself, along with others. Rio Tinto decided not only to withdraw, but also to donate its investment in the mine to the Alaska Community Foundation and the Bristol Bay Native Corporation Education Foundation, both of which are critics of the mine. Rio Tinto executive Jean-Sebastien Jacques hopes that their support of these groups will help educate local Alaskans and help them voice their opinions about economic developments.

I’m curious as to why Rio Tinto is just now expressing an interest in the environment and local opinion. The company supported the Pebble Mine through the initial phases of development and continued its support after the EPA published their assessment. Did they retract their support after opposition grew stronger just to save face? What would have happened if the EPA decided not to block the mine through Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act? What is going to stop them from moving support to another environmentally fragile area? Fortunately, the reinvestment of their funds does make it seem like Rio Tinto is genuinely concerned with the health of the area. However, if the Pebble Mine does not go through, will Pebble Mine just move elsewhere, under the guise of a different name? A mine anywhere is sure to have environmental damage and disrupt the lives of the locals and the demand for metals and minerals is not likely to subside. Mining companies need to have conversations with government agencies and stakeholders to develop a strategy to mine with the smallest amount of impact possible. Otherwise, the problems associated with Pebble Mine will just move to the next location and this whole process will start again. Hopefully Rio Tinto has started a trend and companies will start investing in the voices of the people and THEN invest in the mines.


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