February 02, 2017
By Jonathan Wright
One of the most long-standing and contentious environmental battles in recent memory has been provoked yet again following the installation of the new US federal administration and it's expected industrially friendly policies. Emboldened by the potential for new deregulation, the Canadian mining corporation that has been at the center of the Pebble Mine controversy in Southwest Alaska is ramping up for renewed activity amid revitalized investor interest.
The Pebble Mine controversy is not a new subject for Fly Fisherman, which has publicly opposed the envisioned operation for nearly ten years. This is consistent with the positions other leading voices in the fly fishing industry, including Patagonia, Simms, Sage and many other national and international environmental advocacy organizations. The proposed Pebble Mine is to be situated at the river headwaters upstream of the marine environment of Bristol Bay, and is slated to be the worlds largest open pit mine. Bristol Bay supports the largest runs of Sockeye salmon on earth, with the spawning runs of the fish being the basis of the ecology -- and economy -- of the region. World class fly fishing for silver salmon and enormous rainbow trout are a side aspect of the unique local biology.
Over $400 billion dollars in estimated copper, molybdenum and gold deposits on the site are being targeted for development, with extraction processes involving the spraying of hydrochloric acid on bedrock to leach the metals out of the ore matrix. The operation would require positioning tailing lakes filled with toxic water to be held back by the largest earthen dam ever constructed -- 4.3 miles long and 730 feet high -- directly above one of the major rivers in the area. To say that this presents a potential threat to the ecology of the region would be a spectacular understatement as well, given the example of the horrific environmental disaster following the tailing dam failure of the Mt. Polley mine in British Columbia of 2014.
Northern Dynasty Minerals, Ltd, the Canadian parent company that has relentlessly pursued the resources at Pebble for over a decade, appears to have been a relatively undercapitalized venture for a project of this scale -- if the estimated resources are accurate. Stock prices for the company have been hovering at around the $1.00USD mark for some time, but with surprise outcome of the the recent US General election, values for NDM have now more than tripled. This would seem to have spurred NDM to renew it's development agenda.
The US Environmental Protection Agency has been the primary sticking point for the project, invoking a statute from the Clean Water Act to halt development until further oversight can determine that the project becomes compliant with current regulations. The EPA 404(c) veto authority allows the agency to unilaterally halt operations backed by the power of Federal law. The most recent reinforcement of the 404(c) provision by the EPA was in 2014, with Northern Dynasty struggling to raise capital to comply with EPA safety standards in its operations.
Recent coverage by Bloomberg.com provided the following quote for investors on the subject in light of the new expected regulatory environment, "Pebble is a really great bet," Canadian mining magnate Frank Giustra said Sunday. He said he wishes he still owned shares in Northern Dynasty after selling off his holdings last year amid a political controversy." .
However, Giustra's enthusiasm seems to be tempered by a general distaste for whatever other toxic political elements may come with new administration. "If there's only one thing good about a Trump presidency, it's that it'll be a lot easier in the resource industry in the United States to get things done," Giustra said. "That's about the only good thing."
There are apparently two faces to the speculative coin, however, when the Huffington Post quoted widely regarded popular investing site Motley Fool as saying, "Regardless of the reason for this latest move higher in Northern Dynasty Minerals, your best bet is going to be keep far, far away." This would appear to be a caution in regards to the capricious nature of the winds of politics.
The Canadian mining industry as a whole has recently come under fire for negligent and environmentally rapacious policies in operations worldwide. The New York Times recently called out charismatic Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on the issue, citing human rights and environmental violations being committed worldwide by Canadian corporations that are operating under the imprimatur of his leadership.
Despite the volatility of both NDM stock and the chemical solvents that are at the root of the controversy surrounding the Pebble Mine project, what is at really at issue for stake holders here is how ethics and sustainable values are being applied to legislative policy precedents. It remains to be seen what protections American natural resources will have in the future.
Please consider signing the petition linked here to send a letter to President Trump to request that he directly intervene to prevent further development of the Pebble Mine.