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Pebble Mine: Taking the Battle to the Board Rooms

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Last Thursday in London, in support of the communities of Bristol Bay opposed to the massive Pebble Mine, NRDC delivered another 400,000 opposition petitions to the management of Anglo American and Rio Tinto, the two mining giants backing the mine. Full page ads appeared in the New York Times and, on the day of the companies' annual shareholder meetings, the London Financial Times, urging the companies to respect the region's 80 percent (and greater) opposition and abandon the project. Along with a formidable contingent of representatives from the region, NRDC spoke at both shareholder meetings and attended meetings with the companies' management and with major banks potentially involved in financing the project.

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At top, NRDC's Joel Reynolds, with Nunamta Aulukestai's Bobby Andrew, delivers petitions to Rio Tinto CEO Tom Albanese; at bottom, to Anglo American CEO Cynthia Carroll and COO Paul Henry.

Our message is unequivocal: The pristine watershed that feeds the largest surviving wild salmon fishery in the world is no place for large-scale mining -- for reasons of environmental, economic, social, and cultural risk and overwhelming community opposition. While it is the local communities themselves that always bear the greatest weight of the risk -- witness the impact of BP's Deepwater Horizon disaster on Gulf coast fishermen and their communities -- the Pebble Mine carries significant and unavoidable financial, regulatory, litigation, and reputational risk for the mining companies and their shareholders, too, and for any company that joins with them in this uniquely dangerous and unpopular mining venture.

Anglo American's management continued to argue adamantly last week that there is no basis for opposition or concern until an actual permit application for the mine is submitted, but even Rio Tinto disagreed, announcing publicly for the first time that it does not support the proposal for an open pit mine at Pebble. Both privately and publicly, Rio Tinto's Chief Executive Officer Tom Albanese stated that, based on concerns about environmental impact, "an open pit mine is not the way to go ... in my opinion" - a position to which Anglo American has turned a deaf ear as it continues to advance its proposal to dig what may ultimately become one of the largest man-made holes on Earth, generating over 10 billion tons of contaminated waste.

Travelling for the meetings from Alaska to convey their opposition were Bristol Bay Native Corporation Chairman Joe Chythlook and Executive Director Jason Metrokin, Nunamta Aulukestai Executive Director Kim Williams and Spokesman Bobby Andrew, and Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association Executive Director Bob Waldrop -- joined by Bonnie Gestring of Earthworks.

To these eloquent, compelling, and relentlessly respectful representatives of Bristol Bay, Anglo American Board Chair Sir John Parker offered his assurances that "there is no reason from a mining and engineering point of view that this project can't be done," that what they have done so far in spending $120 million on environmental analysis is "way beyond compliance," and that what Anglo American is looking for is a "democratic process." He failed to mention that the voter-approved Save Our Salmon initiative -- approved by the voters of Lake and Peninsula Borough last Fall to protect salmon and their habitat from large-scale destruction like the Pebble Mine -- is now being challenged in the Alaskan courts by Anglo's own Pebble Partnership.

He dismissed the approximately 1 million petitions submitted in opposition to the Pebble Mine, saying that the company's decision will not be influenced by "a million signatures from some remote location" and that "we will capture the views of the people that matter" -- i.e., the people that live there. Again, he failed to explain why the consistent polling evidence of overwhelming opposition in the region has been ignored or why it's OK for a giant corporation like Anglo American, based half-way around the world in London, to seek to build a massive mine in Bristol Bay in the face of such strong and well documented community opposition. Anglo CEO Cynthia Carroll lashed out at NRDC specifically, charging that through repeated letters it is "distributing misinformation" and "making outlandish claims" about the project's risks.

While disappointing, this evident anger at NRDC's advocacy expressed by Anglo American's leadership makes clear that we have been noticed, that the petitions of our 1.3 million members and activists have struck a nerve, and, most important, that the project can be stopped. Anglo American understands that, as public awareness of the Pebble Mine increases steadily around the world, so, too, will the understanding of its unavoidable risks and the level and intensity of opposition to it.

NRDC is committed to do all that it can, for as long as it takes, to ensure that the voices of the residents of Bristol Bay are heard around the world and that their determination to say "no" to the Pebble Mine isn't ignored by Anglo American and its partners.

It's time to stop the Pebble Mine. Take action now.

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