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Rio Tinto announces withdrawal from Pebble project

By Kirsten Swann, Lauren Maxwell 6:07 AM April 7, 2014

A major stakeholder in the proposed Pebble Mine project announced Monday that it will donate its share of the company to two local Alaska charities.

Rio Tinto — a multinational metals corporation — owns a 19.1 percent stake in Northern Dynasty Minerals, Ltd., the owner of the Pebble Limited Partnership. Northern Dynasty has pursued development of a large-scale mine in the Bristol Bay region for more than a decade, but has faced everything from legal issues to staunch opposition from environmental and Alaska Native groups.

In a written statement announcing the move, Rio Tinto said its stake in Northern Dynasty would be gifted to the Alaska Community Foundation and the Bristol Bay Native Corporation Education Foundation.

“Rio Tinto has long and historic ties to Alaska and we continue to see Alaska as an attractive location for potential future investment,” wrote Rio Tinto Copper chief executive Jean-Sebastien Jacques. “By giving our shares to two respected Alaskan charities, we are 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.”

“It’s really an amazing day,” said Greta Goto, director of the Bristol Bay Native Corporation Education Foundation. “I don’t think anything like this has ever happened in the state of Alaska.”

The foundation was gifted with stock shares worth $8 million. Goto said the money will go toward shareholder scholarships.

Money from Alaska Community Foundation’s shares will help to train Alaskans in fields related to resource development.

In a written response to the decision distributed Monday morning, Sen. Lisa Murkowski said she appreciates Rio Tinto’s handling of the decision and its educational investment in the Bristol Bay region.

“I understand that many mining companies are reevaluating their project portfolios right now, but I’m concerned by what else may have prompted this decision,” she wrote. “If we want to attract investment to our state and our economy, we need a regulatory system at the federal level that is predictable enough to allow responsible development to go forward – at least to the permitting stage, and without the threat of a preemptive veto from the EPA hanging over it.”

An environmental assessment released in late February by the Environmental Protection Agency found a mine would pose serious risks to salmon habitats and Alaska Native cultures in the Bristol Bay region.

Rio Tinto is the second big company to pull out of the Pebble Project. That leaves Northern Dynasty standing alone, waiting for an EPA decision that could veto the project outright. The company has an April 29 deadline to address concerns by the EPA that developing the mine will hurt Bristol Bay salmon.

But despite what many would consider declining odds, a spokesman for the Pebble Partnership said they haven’t given up.

“There still remains a lot of interest in this project,” said spokesman Mike Heatwole. “There’s a tremendous asset of mineral wealth under the ground at Pebble for Alaskans and for all of our stakeholders.”

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