Corporate leadership changes are under way at the international mining firm behind the big push to develop the Pebble mine, but what effect this may have on the multimillion-dollar project is still uncertain.
"It's an Anglo American decision," said John Shively, chief executive officer of the Pebble Limited Partnership in Anchorage, of the announcement that Cynthia Carroll will step down as chief executive of Anglo American. Carroll will also relinquish her roles as chairman of Anglo American Platinum and of the diamond firm De Beers.
"She will stay on until a successor is named. It's not a Pebble decision," Shively said. He declined any comment on how Carroll's departure might figure in development of the mine.
Anglo American is a 50-50 partner in the Pebble Limited Partnership with the Vancouver mining firm Northern Dynasty.
The London-based company, one of the world's largest mining ventures, has a portfolio of mining businesses that includes iron ore, manganese, metallurgical coal, thermal coal, copper, nickel and precious metals and minerals, including platinum and diamonds.
Anglo American says in its news releases that it is "committed to the highest standards of safety and responsibility across all its businesses and geographies, and to making a sustainable difference in the development of the communities around its operations."
And yet Anglo American has been in the news internationally over labor unrest, including strikes at its platinum operations at its mining ventures in South Africa, which Anglo American officials said would result in a short fall in expected production, and criticism from shareholders.
British newspaper The Telegram reported back in August that Anglo American contacted Sir John Parker, the chairman of Anglo American, and asked him to find a new chief executive. Shareholders said their complaints about lack of confidence in company leadership were rebuffed by Parker, and so they contacted David Challen, the company's senior independent director, to demand that the chairman be overruled.
There was more criticism on Oct. 29 from Nunamta Aulukestai, Caretakers of the Land, the Dillingham based association of Bristol Bay Native village corporations the tribes which has been in the forefront of opposition of development of the massive Pebble copper, gold and molybdenum mine at the headwaters of the Bristol Bay watershed.
"Anglo American should reassess at this point and drop the Pebble mine," said Kim Williams, executive director of Nunamta Aulukestai. "There's no future for Anglo American or any other mining company at Pebble because the impacts to the fishery are too great. Our future is the fishery, and the abundance of sustainable jobs it supplies."
Anglo American's shareholders have been calling on Carroll to quit in response to reduced earnings and disagreements over strategy, Williams said. Anglo projects have been hampered by delays and a downturn in global commodity prices. Her resignation is also occurring amidst violent strikes at its operations in South Africa, where over 12,000 striking mine workers were fired at its troubled operations, with workers protesting work and pay conditions, she said.
"Cynthia Carroll promised that Anglo American wouldn't develop the Pebble mine if it didn't have community support," said Bobby Andrew, a subsistence fisherman and spokesperson for Nunamta. "We're left to wonder just who is accountable to the guarantees that Anglo made to Bristol Bay residents."
Pending EPA watershed report
Meanwhile, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is working to complete its final assessment of potential impacts of large-scale mining on the Bristol Bay watershed, home of the world's largest wild sockeye salmon fishery. The area where Pebble proposes to develop and operate the mine sits on state land designated for use for mining.
Pebble proponents have argued that they should be allowed to progress to the permitting stage and that they would be able to meet rigorous requirements for the necessary permits. The Pebble Limited Partnership spent millions of dollars to produce its own environmental baseline data study, hiring Colorado-based Keystone Center to facilitate public meetings to explain the extensive document to the public. The panel discussions at the University of Alaska Anchorage in September drew a number of people who had already taken a strong stand for or against the Pebble mine, including representatives of the mining community and Bristol Bay fishermen, who staged a protest outside the building where the discussions were being held.
The EPA's scientific study was prompted by a petition from commercial fishermen and Alaska Native tribes in the Bristol Bay region who asked the EPA to use its authority under section 404c of the federal Clean Water Act to restrict disposal of mine waste in Bristol Bay waterways to protect the fishery, which provides an estimated 14,000 jobs annually and supplies roughly half of the world's wild sockeye salmon. The final report, the EPA said, will lead to a better understanding of potential environmental impacts of these (mining) activities on the watershed.
Under the Clean Water Act, the EPA has the authority and responsibility to protect the nation's water and perform scientific studies that enhance the agency's and the public's knowledge of water resources.
The EPA said in its online project summary that its focus in the assessment is scientific and technical. The agency has made no judgments about use of its regulatory authority under the Clean Water Act and the draft study in no way prejudges future consideration of proposed mining activities.
After completing its draft document, the EPA held lengthy meetings in Anchorage and other communities to hear the public's views on said draft. Those sessions drew a cross-section of pro-mining and anti-Pebble mine groups and individuals who expressed strong criticism and strong support of the draft document.
Mine advocates drew strong support from resource development firms and businesses that support the resource development industry. Mine opponents found support from numerous sport fishing groups, major jewelry firms, including Tiffany's, and other major businesses and environmental organizations nationwide.
Both sides have also continued a massive amount of advertising, in an effort to sway public opinion.