Energy & Environment

Pebble Mine CEO resigns over secretly recorded comments about government officials 

The CEO of the company behind the proposed Pebble Mine has announced his resignation after an environmental group released comments that he made describing a close relationship with public officials. 

CEO Tom Collier of the Pebble Limited Partnership will step down after he "embellished both his and the Pebble Partnership's relationships with elected officials and federal representatives in Alaska, including Governor Dunleavy, Senators Murkowski and Sullivan and senior representatives of the US Army Corps of Engineers," said a statement from Pebble's parent company Northern Dynasty Minerals. 

"The comments were clearly offensive to these and other political, business and community leaders in the state and for this, Northern Dynasty unreservedly apologizes to all Alaskans," the statement read. 

In tapes published this week by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), Collier called said he and Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy (R) are "pretty good friends" and said that the governor's chief of staff formerly sat on a committee that advised Collier on matters related to the Pebble Mine. 

"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," he said.

Northern Dynasty CEO Ronald Thiessen also discussed access to the White House and using the governor's office for said access. 

"We can talk to the chief of staff at  the White House any time we want," he said, but warned that there are records about who the White House chief of staff has calls with and said that it's better to go through Alaska's governor.

"It's better for us if we want to push that envelope that Tom talks to the Governor of the State of Alaska and the Governor of the State of Alaska picks up the phone and calls the Chief of Staff to the White House," Thiessen said. 

The executives made the comments to EIA investigators who pretended to be potential investors in the controversial project.  

Collier also made comments about what he believed to be support for the mine from Alaska's two senators, including saying that the chairman of the company's board rents an apartment from a Sullivan staffer. 

"We have a very close relationship with one of his top advisors who in fact - our - the guy who was my predecessor, John Shively, rents an apartment in Alaska from his, from Sullivan's state director. And the two of them have worked together for 20 years so John knows her well and talks to her regularly," he said. 

Both also expressed optimism about support from Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R), with Thiessen saying that Murkowski's father accompanied him to London while Thiessen courted investors. 

"He is the governor that accompanied Bob Dickinson and I to London to meet Rio, BHP, and Anglo to invite them into the project," he said.

In the tapes, Thiessen projected that the mine could be in operation for much longer than the 20-year period that's currently proposed, remaining in operation for 200 years. 

In the statement released Wednesday, Thiessen called the release of the tapes "unethical" but also criticized comments made within them. 

"The unethical manner in which these tapes were acquired does not excuse the comments that were made or the crass way they were expressed," he said. "On behalf of the Company and our employees, I offer my unreserved apology to all those who were hurt or offended, and  all Alaskans." 

The officials mentioned in the tapes disputed the comments made by the executives in statements to local news outlets. 

Dunleavy's office said that executives "embellished their relationships with state and federal officials at all levels;" Sullivan said the comments contained fabrications and said "it's clear that the company executives are floundering;" and Murkowski has said she's not remaining "quiet in the corner."

Both Sullivan and Murkowski have also recently put out statements saying that a permit for the mine shouldn't be issued as it's currently proposed. 

The proposed gold and copper mine would be located in the world's largest commercial sockeye salmon producing region, and has divided conservatives, with prominent figures like Donald Trump Jr. and Tucker Carlson opposing it. 

After his son's opposition, President Trump said he would look at "both sides" of the matter and even though it had already completed an environmental impact assessment of the mine, the Army Corps of Engineers decided to require additional steps the companies would need to take in order for the mine to be approved. 

The environmental assessment found that the mine would not impact salmon harvests, reversing an Obama administration determination that it would. It did note that there would be damage to wetlands. 

In the letter following that assessment, the Army Corps said the company would have to take extra steps to mitigate "unavoidable adverse impacts to aquatic resources," delaying its final decision on the project.

Since then, the president said on Twitter that "there will be NO POLITICS in the Pebble Mine Review Process," echoing language from a Pebble ad which urged him to "continue to stand tall and don't let politics enter the Pebble Mine review process."

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