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Rio Tinto pulls out of controversial Alaska mine

Environment » Pebble mine faced major opposition for impacts on salmon fishery

By Mike Gorrell

| The Salt Lake Tribune

First Published Apr 07 2014 03:08 pm • Last Updated Apr 07 2014 05:56 pm

Kennecott’s parent company, Rio Tinto, is pulling out of a proposed copper mine in southwest Alaska that sparked strong opposition because of the environmental harm it could cause in salmon-rich Bristol Bay.

The London-based multinational company announced Monday it will donate its majority interest in the Pebble Project — a 19.1 percent shareholding — to two charitable organizations in Alaska.

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Rio Tinto’s withdrawal is another major blow to what would have been a massive open-pit copper, gold and molybdenum mine on an isolated bay that produces nearly 50 percent of the world’s wild sockeye salmon, supporting 14,000 full- and part-time jobs.

In December, the British mining company Anglo American dropped out after holding a 50 percent interest for the past six years. Mitsbushi Corp., which had a 9 percent interest, also has exited.

Rio Tinto’s departure leaves the Pebble mine without a major source of funding, said Bonnie Gestring of Earthworks, part of a broad coalition that fought the Pebble mine. Protests were held periodically in Salt Lake City.

"More importantly," Gestring added, "there is now no mining company behind Pebble that has actually mined anything."

In a three-paragraph news release, Rio Tinto CEO Jean-Sebastien Jacques said the company has concluded "the Pebble Project does not fit with Rio Tinto’s strategy."

The proposed mine did not meet U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards either. EPA released a report Feb. 28 that said the mine would "likely cause irreversible destruction of streams that support salmon and other important fish species, as well as extensive areas of wetlands, ponds and lakes."

EPA officials noted that 850,000 letters of opposition were received from "citizens, tribes, Alaska Native corporations, commercial and sport fishermen, jewelry companies, seafood processors, restaurant owners, chefs, conservation organizations, members of the faith community, sports recreation business owners [and] elected officials."

The fishing industry in Bristol Bay supports about 14,000 full- and part-time jobs.

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