If you're the Pebble Limited Partnership ("PLP"), you have to be relieved to see 2012 fade into history.
According to PLP, 2012 was to be a year of gathering momentum for the Pebble Mine (or at least a year in which shareholders and investors would see that real progress is possible) -- a year when project opposition would begin to run out of steam.
But 2012 saw none of that. In fact, it was a year of continuing problems for, and growing opposition to, a project that has already seen plenty of resistance. Here, in no particular order, are 10 notable highlights from the last 12 months:
• Permit applications for the Pebble Mine, although promised in 2012, were never filed. None.
• EPA advanced its independent review of mining in the region, releasing a comprehensive draft Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment that documents the devastating range of impacts of large-scale mining on the region and its communities -- impacts that, according to EPA, are likely to occur even if the project operates flawlessly, which no large-scale mine ever has. Issuance of the final assessment is expected in early 2013.
• Over 200,000 public comments were submitted on the Watershed Assessment -- of which over 90 percent were supportive of EPA's work; eight public hearings were held, both in Alaska and Seattle; and a formal peer review process was undertaken and completed.
• Northern Dynasty Minerals -- a 50 percent owner of the Pebble project -- saw its share price continue a precipitous decline, falling by May to below $3 a share from a 2011 high of over $21 a share.
• Investment analyst Canaccord Genuity downgraded Northern Dynasty Mineral's stock to "hold" from "speculative buy" and cut the price target to $7 from $11.45 in May, noting that "EPA's draft conclusions add to the negative perception regarding the project, and suggest that environmental opposition's case against the Pebble project could gain traction."
• Anglo American CEO Cynthia Carroll -- the other 50 percent owner of the Pebble prospect -- resigned in the wake of continuing labor strife in the company's South Africa properties. Anglo American's financial woes are only exacerbated by its continuing obligation to fund development of the Pebble Mine -- perhaps the most widely opposed large-scale mining prospect in the world.
• Northern Dynasty shareholder Rio Tinto publicly split with Anglo and the Pebble Partnership, when Rio's CEO announced at its shareholder meeting in April that Rio has no interest in developing an open-pit mine at Pebble -- precisely the design that Anglo and the PLP have committed to pursue.
• Opposition broadened, as Alaska Natives, commercial fishermen, hunters, anglers, fish processors and retailers, over 60 major jewelers, and a growing list of national conservation organizations announced their support for EPA's Watershed Assessment process -- an unprecedented and uniquely diverse coalition.
• NRDC announced that 1 million petitions in opposition to the project have been received and delivered -- and the number continues to rise.
• Just last month, the Lieutenant Governor of Alaska green-lighted a proposed state-wide initiative -- called "Bristol Bay Forever" -- that would prohibit development of the Pebble Mine or any other large-scale mine in the Bristol Bay Watershed unless the Alaska legislature specifically finds that a project will not harm salmon or its habitat. Once signatures are gathered, the initiative is expected to come to a vote in 2014.
All in all, it was another tough year for the Pebble Mine.
And, in the coming year, look for more of the same. Bristol Bay is no place for large-scale mining, and the Pebble Mine will eventually be stopped. It's only a matter of time.
2013 could be a very good year to stop the Pebble Mine.
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