WASHINGTON — Global mining giant Rio Tinto is pulling out of the Pebble Mine project in Alaska, the latest blow to the controversial plan to build an open pit mine in the best wild salmon stronghold in the world.
Rio Tinto said Monday that it will donate its 19 percent share in the project to a pair of Alaskan charities, the Alaska Community Foundation and the Bristol Bay Native Corporation Education Foundation.
Rio Tintos decision comes as after the Environmental Protection Agency last month moved closer to blocking the mine. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said the mine would "likely have significant and irreversible negative impacts on the salmon of Bristol Bay. She said her agency would decide on action to protect the salmon under the Clean Water Act, which could lead to a veto of the project.
The British mining powerhouse Anglo American pulled out of the Pebble project last year and now Rio Tinto is abandoning it as well. The company said Monday that "the Pebble Project does not fit with Rio Tintos strategy."
"By giving our shares to two respected Alaskan charities, we are ensuring that Alaskans will have a say in Pebbles future development," Rio Tinto Copper Chief Executive Jean-Sebastien Jacques said in a written statement.
The Bristol Bay Native Corporation Education Foundation said in statement that "Rio Tintos gift will benefit organizations that serve the people and communities of Alaska."
Executive Director Greta Goto said the shares would help the foundation to support educational opportunities for shareholders in the Bristol Bay Native Corporation.
The Bristol Bay Native Corporation, though, has been among the most outspoken opponents of the mine.
"This gift provides an example of what open discussion and relationship building between stakeholders with differing views can accomplish," said Bristol Bay Native Corp. President Jason Metrokin. "However, BBNCs opposition to the proposed Pebble mine has not changed."
A representative of the Alaska Community Foundation did not have an immediate response to the gift.
The Pebble mine ranks among the largest copper undeveloped copper deposits in the world. Project developer Northern Dynasty Minerals is vowing to push on despite the controversies and continual setbacks.
The pullout of Anglo American left Northern Dynasty without a needed partner to bankroll the development of the mine. Northern Dynasty is continuing to search for a new partner, and said it will work with the Alaskan charities that are now stakeholders.
"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," Northern Dynasty President Ron Thiessen said in a written statement.