Environmentally conscious investor organizations urged the Environmental Protection Agency in a letter Tuesday to take a closer look at plans for a huge copper and gold mine in Alaska near some of the world's best-producing wild salmon streams.
Together, the nearly 30 investor organizations represent more than $170 billion in assets, according to Trillium Asset Management Corp. and Calvert Investments, two groups leading the organizations in the request to EPA administrator Lisa P. Jackson.
The groups hold more than 13 million shares in Anglo American PLC, which is partnering with Northern Dynasty Minerals to develop the minerals deposit near Bristol Bay in southwest Alaska.
The EPA said in February it would study how Pebble Mine could affect the Bristol Bay watershed. But the investor groups want the agency to go further and conduct what is called a Section 404(c) review under the Clean Water Act in which the agency could prohibit or restrict the disposal of mine waste if it would harm fisheries.
The EPA did not immediately provide comment.
Officials with Calvert Investments and Trillium Asset Management Corp. say the investor groups are not calling for a stop to Pebble, which is being prepared for permitting. But, they say, given the potential risks the mine poses to the people of Bristol Bay and an ecosystem that produces about half of the world's commercial supply of wild sockeye salmon, responsible resource development at Pebble is critical.
If the mine were built and the result was long-term catastrophic damage to the region, that could cast an economic pall over all mining projects, even the safe ones, the letter says.
"Such occurrences would be costly and destabilizing to the global mining and fishing industries," the letter says. "We urge the EPA to initiate its 404(c) review process to evaluate the potential mine waste impacts associated with the proposed Pebble Mine Project."
Opponents have warned that a rupture of a tailings dam to store mining waste from Pebble in the earthquake-prone area would be catastrophic. Mine developers say the dam could be built to withstand a powerful earthquake.
"We are not anti-mine," said Jonas Kron, vice president at Trillium, which has about $1 billion in assets. "It is just when these extractions happen they need to happen in an appropriate fashion with the risk in mind and be culturally appropriate and have the environmental regulatory technological concerns appropriately addressed."
Calvert shareholders are concerned about the costs that can be incurred when there are environmental impacts associated with certain kinds of industrial activities, said Stu Dalheim, director of shareholder advocacy at Calvert, which manages about $14 billion in mutual funds.
An evaluation of mining waste that would come from Pebble is appropriate given the economic importance of Bristol Bay's commercial fishing industry, as well as sport hunting and sport fishing in the region, Dalheim said.
He said if the 404(c) review found that large-scale mining posed a very high risk to the fish, as did a 2010 study by The Nature Conservancy, then Calvert investors believe the project should be stopped.
John Shively, chief executive of Pebble Limited Partnership, did not immediately return a call for comment.