On Monday, a series of 12 videos showing Pebble Limited Partnership executives discussing various elements of the proposed Pebble Mine reveals their true intentions for a significantly larger mine in Bristol Bay, and detail considerable behind-the-scenes coordination with government officials.
Over the past two months, investigators posed as potential foreign investors in the Pebble Mine project had multiple recorded video conversations with now former Pebble Limited Partnership CEO, Tom Collier and the President/CEO of Northern Dynasty Minerals, Ronald Thiessen. View the videos here.
The Pebble Tapes show executives sharing plans to expand the mine by 180 years and construct additional infrastructure beyond its current proposal. They also tout the permanent storage of massive volumes of mine waste that negate their current mine closure plans, and include details about the company’s coordination with Alaska and federal government officials to influence the permitting process.
Here are some of the most damning direct quotes from the tapes:
- On a 200-year mine plan: Investigator: So, you mean that essentially once we are in, once the mine is starting producing employment, development, after that nobody’s gonna stop it? Ronald Thiessen: No. Correct. And then those numbers from 2011— Investigator: Do you think it’s gonna be unstoppable? Ronald Thiessen: Yes. Well who’s gonna stop a mine that has 180 — at a 160,000 metric tons per day, the first deposit that we’ve discovered at Pebble — and there will be more — but the first one lasts 180 years.
- On expansion: Ronald Thiessen: It’s called the Donlin Project. It’s owned 50 percent by Barrick and 50 percent by Novagold. While currently the infrastructure for the mines are completely separate and independent, use different directions and corridors, there is a lot of logic to us joining forces to make a single corridor. And the infrastructure on their mine is $1.5 billion, the infrastructure on our mine is $1.5 billion. If you put them together it’s not a total savings, but it’s probably saving 50 to 75 percent of one of them … Because if you flip the Pebble switch ‘on,’ it’s likely that you may also be flipping on the Donlin switch. And we think that’s a real benefit that the project has.
- On wastewater treatment: Ronald Thiessen: Once the mine is finished, and remember this mine is not gonna be finished for 180, 200 years. So [water treatment facilities] will be there. And obviously if you refurbish regularly, now we actually believe that this water that we gather up will qualify ultimately under environmental standards for discharge without treatment. We’ve said, so that we don’t have to ask the question, Can we discharge it without treatment?’ We’re building the water treatment plants.
- On relationships with Alaska Gov. Dunleavy: Tom Collier: The governor I count as a friend. I did in my home the largest private fundraiser for the governor when he was running for office and it’s not unusual for the governor to call me. I’ve flown down to Juneau, which is about half the year where the governor is, he spends about half the year in Anchorage and half the year in Juneau. I’ve flown down to Juneau where the governor’s mansion is and had private dinners with him in the mansion. So the governor and I are pretty good friends.
- On Alaska Sen. Murkowski: Tom Collier: The way that Sen. Murkowski has done that is that when she’s asked a question she says things that don’t sound supportive of Pebble, OK? But when it comes time to vote, when it comes time to do something, she never does anything to hurt Pebble. Never.”
- On Alaska Sen. Sullivan: Tom Collier: He’s off in a corner being quiet. So I think that’s [what] our plan to work with him is: leave him alone and let him be quiet.
- On interference in Alaska state races: Tom Collier: So I organized, I was one of a number of organizers of a business group, we got together, raised money, we put together a campaign and we defeated them all! We changed nine out of, there are let’s see 40 … uh … 50 seats that were up for election and out of that 50 we threw out nine people that had not been supporting the governor and that had not been supporting Pebble.
On Monday night, Sen. Lisa Murkowski issued a statement on the tapes:
“Let me be clear: I did not misunderstand the Army Corps’ recent announcement,” she said by email. “I am not ‘embarrassed’ by my statement on it and I will not be ‘quiet in the corner.’ I am dead set on a high bar for large-scale resource development in the Bristol Bay watershed. The reality of this situation is the Pebble project has not met that bar and a permit cannot be issued to it.”
Sen. Sullivan followed on Tuesday: “Any suggestion otherwise is either wishful thinking, a blatant mischaracterization, or a desperate attempt to secure funding for a mine that cannot move forward. This incident demonstrates how far Mr. Collier, who has serious credibility problems of his own, is floundering in the face of this project’s overwhelming challenges.”
Alaska Gov. Dunleavy also responded on Tuesday night. “The statements made in the videos by representatives from Northern Dynasty and the Pebble Limited Partnership, as assembled by an environmental group, misrepresent the Dunleavy administration’s role and stance on the Pebble Project. The individuals in those videos embellished their relationship with state and federal officials at all levels. Any claims that Governor Dunleavy contacted White House administration officials on behalf of the company are false.”
CNN reports from last December provides direct proof that contradicts the Governor’s statement. According to their report, Dunleavy’s office was given detailed talking points, ghostwritten letters and advice on lobbying strategies by Pebble Limited Partnership executives. Dunleavy and his office used that material, sometimes adopting the company’s language word for word, in efforts that culminated in President Donald Trump promising favorable action on the mine, according to emails.
On Wednesday, Pebble Limited Partnership CEO Tom Collier resigned from his position in wake of the Pebble Tapes. Ron Thiessen, who was also filmed in conversations, issued an apology on behalf of the company. However, the resignation does nothing to alleviate the overwhelming concerns with Pebble’s plan and ongoing political lobbying.
The Pebble Tapes, the Governor’s blatant lie about his relationship with Pebble and the White House, and the resignation of Pebble’s CEO all lead to one conclusion: Pebble’s permit must be denied now.
Pebble has gone through the review process, and the science stands. The Army Corps of Engineers was clear that the project as proposed, “would likely result in significant degradation of the environment and would likely result in significant adverse effects on the aquatic system or human environment.” The Pebble Tapes show that the project that is currently being evaluated by federal reviewers and the public is fraudulent and nowhere close to the actual plans or intention of the proposed mine’s planners or Northern Dynasty.
The right choice for Alaska and America is for Pebble’s key permit to be denied, and for Congress to investigate Pebble for lying to federal regulators, Congress, and the American people.