Anglo American CEO Cynthia Carroll has been in the news recently -- and the news for the company isn't good. Amid reports of shareholder unrest, Carroll has pledged to cut $1.5 billion from the group's 2012 capital expenditures.
"We will look at the entire value chain, from resources to mining to processes sales and marketing and people, and no option is off the table..." said Carroll.
Here's an option: cut Pebble Mine.
Carroll also said that Anglo would prioritize capital to "projects with the lowest execution risks."
Pebble Mine, located at the remote headwaters of the world's greatest salmon fishery, is fraught with risk. Much has already been said about the unique environmental and economic risks associated with this particular site -- and they are significant. But there are other important risks as well, including:
Reputational Risk. Anglo American is faced with an overwhelming number of Alaska Natives, Bristol Bay residents, commercial fishermen and others who are opposed to Pebble Mine, including:
- The Bristol Bay Native Corporation, 81 percent of whose shareholders oppose Pebble Mine;
- The residents of the Bristol Bay region, over 80 percent of whom oppose Pebble Mine;
- Commercial fishermen, over 85 percent of whom oppose Pebble Mine; and
- Americans in the lower 48, over 77 percent of whom oppose Pebble Mine.
In addition, prominent jewelers like Tiffany & Co., Helzberg Diamonds, Zale, and Jostens have expressed their opposition to Pebble Mine and vowed not to use gold extracted from it.
Continuing with the project in the face of local and national opposition jeopardizes Anglo American's reputation. In seeming recognition of this fact, Cynthia Carroll has pledged in the past that "we will not go where communities are against us." Well, the communities have spoken and an overwhelming majority of them are against Pebble Mine.
Regulatory Risk. Nine federally-recognized tribes in Alaska have petitioned EPA to protect Bristol Bay from large-scale mining like the Pebble Mine. The tribes specifically asked EPA to use its "veto" authority under Section 404(c) of the federal Clean Water Act. EPA received similar requests from the Bristol Bay Native Corporation, the Bristol Bay Native Association, commercial fishing and sportsmen groups, and conservation groups.
In response, EPA released a scientific review of the Bristol Bay watershed to understand impacts from large-scale development. EPA's draft Watershed Assessment -- released in May for public comment and currently undergoing peer review and revision -- documents the devastating impacts Pebble Mine would have on the region, including:
- Destruction of fish spawning and rearing streams;
- Elimination of thousands of acres of wetland;
- Reduction in the amount and quality of fish habitat due to water removal; and
- Almost certainty (98 percent probability) of a pipeline spill with potential contaminant release into streams and wetlands.
The Assessment provides more than enough information to find with absolute certainty that large-scale mining in the Bristol Bay watershed would pose enormous harm to the watershed's natural resources -- and the people and wildlife that depend on those resources. And it provides EPA with more than enough information to initiate action under the Clean Water Act to protect Bristol Bay from the inevitable threats of Pebble Mine.
In addition to risk from federal regulation, Pebble Mine also faces risk from local regulation. In October 2011, voters in the Lake and Peninsula Borough in Bristol Bay passed the Save our Salmon ("SOS") initiative. The initiative bans large-scale mining that would "destroy or degrade" salmon habitat and is in direct response to Pebble Mine.
Operational Risk. To transport gold and copper from the mine site to market, Anglo American will have to construct massive infrastructure, including a marine terminal in Cook Inlet, roads, and pipelines. Cook Inlet is home to endangered beluga whales and the port would be situated in their critical habitat. Obtaining regulatory approval will be arduous. In order to construct the 104-mile road, the Anglo American must acquire access rights from area landowners -- many of which (particularly BBNC) oppose the mine and will not willingly provide access rights. In addition, the construction and operation of Pebble Mine will require a massive new power source that Anglo American will need to build and transmit.
Legal Risk. A coalition of local communities, tribal governments, the commercial and sport fishing industries, conservation groups, sports groups, and numerous business interests has formed to oppose the mine. Stakeholders have filed challenges against the exploration permit, land use plan, and water rights for the project. Further lawsuits are inevitable.
Pebble Mine is a risk that Anglo American can no longer afford to take. If Anglo American is looking to cut expenses, this is the perfect project to drop. Because local opposition -- and the risks associated with it -- are only increasing.
Tell Anglo American that it's time to listen.
Photo credit: Robert Glenn Ketchum