Rio Tinto, a British and Australian mining company, announced Monday it was ending its involvement in the Pebble project, a controversial gold, copper and molybdenum play in Southwest Alaska.
Rio Tinto, which owns a 19.1 percent stake in Northern Dynasty Minerals, Ltd., -- the Canadian company that owns the rights to the Pebble prospect -- said it would give its shares to two Alaska charitable organizations, the Alaska Community Foundation and the Education Foundation of Bristol Bay Native Corporation.
The move comes after a series of events that have dealt major setbacks to the Pebble project. In September, London-based Anglo American withdrew from the Pebble Partnership, taking a $300 million hit for doing so. In December, following Anglo American's decision and facing pressure from some shareholders to divest, Rio Tinto said it would re-evaluate its investment. Then in February, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced it would temporarily block permitting of the mine pending a special review under a rarely-used section of the Clean Water Act. Under those provisions, the EPA has the power to halt development permanently.
In a statement, Rio Tinto Copper CEO Jean-Sebastien Jacques said the company continues to see Alaska as an attractive location for future investment, and the donation is a way of "ensuring that Alaskans will have a say in Pebble's future development and that any economic benefit supports Alaska's ability to attract investment that creates jobs."
Vancouver-based Northern Dynasty said in a release the company was "pleased" that the shares will go to Alaska organizations. President and CEO Ron Thiessen said, "We look forward to meeting with the leadership of the Alaska Community Foundation and Bristol Bay Native Corporation Education Foundation in the days ahead to better understand their long-term goals and aspirations, and how their ownership interest in Northern Dynasty and the Pebble Project can make the greatest possible contribution to the people and communities they serve."
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.