By now, you’ve heard about the scandal rocking the Pebble mining company that has proposed to mine copper and gold in the headwaters of Bristol Bay in Alaska. The proposed mine would devastate the most significant salmon fishery in the state, trample on indigeous rights, and leave a pollution legacy for generations. Sound familiar? The case has an amazing number of similarities to Antofagasta’s Twin Metals proposed mine.
Both operations - Pebble’s parent company of Northern Dynasty and Twin Metals’ owner, Antofagasta - are foreign companies. Northern Dynasty is based in Canada and Antofagasta is based in Chile. Both multi-nationals operate in the United States with wholly owned subsidiaries intended to shield the parent mining companies from liability (Pebble Limited Partnership and Twin Metals Minnesota LLC), and have hired local leaders to give the appearance of a home-grown project. Doubtless, this legal structure provides much protection for the true owners of the projects. Make no mistake, these foreign mining companies that own the proposed Pebble mine and Twin Metals mine have no allegiance to the communities they propose to work in - it is all about private profits. But the local leaders - really fronts for the mining companies - usually stand to gain substantially if or when a mine is permitted. Tom Collier, Pebble’s ex-CEO, for example, was to receive a bonus of $12.5M if the project got permitted.
Both operations have extremely questionable rental arrangements with key elected officials. In 2016, the patriarch of the family that controls Antofagasta made his first Washington, D.C. residential acquisition - a mansion in high-end Kalorama district in Washington, DC. Within days, Antofagasta’s owner rented the mansion (for below-market rates) to Ivanka and Jared Kushner (who still live there). With Pebble, the Chairman of the company’s Board of Directors rents an apartment from a staffer of Alaska Congressman Dan Sullivan. This coziness is beyond the pale, and anyone with any integrity would avoid it like the plague.
The worst part of the rental arrangement is the implication of access to key elected officials, and this is where some of the most egregious similarities are found. In both projects, there is demonstrable evidence that the companies have influence over key local elected officials, and a behind-the-scenes access to top officials in the Trump administration. The Pebble CEO asserted a strong connection to both Alaska Senators but also a strong connection to Alaska’s Governor who, he said, could get immediate access to the White House Chief of Staff anytime he wanted. This is a stark similarity to the relationship between Twin Metals, two Minnesota Congressmen, and top political appointees in the key departments - Interior and Agriculture, according to documents secured in Freedom of Information Act Requests. Minnesota U.S. Reps. Stauber and Emmer have both been vocal supporters of the Twin Metals project. Political appointees in these departments have directed agencies to reverse Obama-era Boundary Waters protections and prohibitions on sulfide-ore copper mining near the Boundary Waters, and instead steamroll the proposed Twin Metals mine through the leasing and environmental review processes. Rep. Emmer is head of the National Republican Congressional Committee, which works to elect Republicans to the US House of Representatives. Because of that position, he has extraordinary access to the top levels of the Trump administration. Emails we’ve seen show that these Congressmen successfully influenced federal agencies to make lease terms more favorable to Twin Metals, at their request!
Under the Trump administration, federal oversight agencies have issued narrow and surprisingly uninformed environmental reviews of the impact of the respective projects. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issued a very cursory Environmental Assessment on the renewal of Twin Metals federal mineral leases that failed to consider any environmental impacts. We are suing the BLM because of the wholly inadequate review, including the failure to consider the impact of sulfide-ore copper mining on the Boundary Waters. In the case of Pebble, the Army Corps of Engineers found the mine would not impact the irreplaceable salmon fishery of Bristol Bay. In both cases, the agencies reversed opposite findings issued under the Obama administration, decisions that were carefully and rigorously based on scientific review.
In the recently released secret recordings, Pebble’s ex-CEO Tom Collier (he resigned) asserted point blank that Pebble mine would grow immensely past it’s proposed footprint. In fact, he said it could operate for centuries. This, in spite of the fact that the proposal submitted to the government was for a 20 year operation. Collier testified in 2019 that there were no plans to expand, even though that would leave 90% of the known deposit in the ground. That is almost identical to the situation at Twin Metals. The mine plan of operations Twin Metals submitted to state and federal agencies calls for a 25-year mining operation extracting 182 million tons of ore. In a 2018 report to its shareholders, Antofagasta provided information that shows that the mine plan Twin Metals submitted to federal and state agencies represented just 7.3% of the total tonnage it controlled; if it developed all of its assets, then the full project could be as much as 13.7 times larger than the filed mine plan. A mine fully developed would require toxic tailings waste storage that could cover up to 18.4 square miles of surface lands, all located very close to the shores of Birch Lake and immediately upstream of the fragile Boundary Waters. As Collier was quoted as saying, “Once you have something like this in production, why would you want to stop?”
A majority of citizens of both states opposed the respective projects. In Alaska, a 2019 poll showed 54% of residents opposed the project. In Minnesota, various polls over the years have shown between 62 to 70% opposition among Minnesota voters, including a 2020 StarTribune poll that showed 62% opposition. A poll from July 2020 showed that 68% of Minnesota voters support a permanent ban on copper mining next to the Boundary Waters.
It most surely appears that Twin Metals is using Pebble Mining’s playbook. One can only infer the shady manipulations between the company and the federal government are intended to conceal the real scope of the project and gloss over its guaranteed environmental destruction. With a strong majority of citizens opposed to this project, and knowing how these companies are operating, we have to wonder why our more honest elected officials haven’t yet killed this project. Let’s make sure they know that we won’t let Twin Metals pull a Pebble Mining fast one on us.