Erin McKittrick, Ground Truth Trekking

“Pebble Tapes” Reveal Deceitful Company At Work

“Pebble Tapes” Reveal Deceitful Company At Work

Pebble’s CEO resigns and members of Congress question the trustworthiness of the company after undercover interviews become public. 

By Sam Snyder, Alaska Campaign Manager 

Just when you thought the fight against the Pebble Mine couldn’t get more dramatic, it did. 

On Monday, the environmental nonprofit, Environmental Investigations Agency, released a series of recordings called the Pebble Tapes. In the tapes, Pebble Mine CEO Tom Collier and Northern Dynasty Minerals CEO Ron Thiessen describe to supposed investors about the size and future of the project, their relationship to Alaska’s Senators, Alaska’s Governor, and the Trump Administration. The “investors” turned out to be EIA investigators, and the release of these tapes to the world has set off a series of cascading events, which appear to be far from finished. 

At face value, these tapes reveal that Pebble has been lying to Alaskans, Americans, permitting agencies, and even Congress. While they have steadily sold a story of a mine that would last twenty years, company execs brag on tape about a mine lasting more than 180 years, explain multiple expansion scenarios, and even discuss connections to the proposed Donlin Gold Mine 180 miles away. This admission confirms what many have long feared and suspected: Pebble’s first phase is just the beginning of a potentially disastrous plan to turn the headwaters of Bristol Bay into a mining district

In these tapes, they brag about a mine lasting more than 180 years, explain multiple expansion scenarios, and even discuss connections to the proposed Donlin Gold Mine 180 miles away.

Since taking the helm of Pebble in 2014, Tom Collier has led a public relations campaign to build a mine he insisted was “smaller” and “safer.” In every venue possible, including in front of Congressional oversight committees, he maintained that Pebble was pursuing a 20-year mine and had no intention or plans to expand that mine. Yet in the Pebble Tapes, Collier and Ron Thiessen openly discussed how they have downplayed the size of the mine as a means to “impact perception” and explained that once initially permitted, the expansion of Pebble would be “unstoppable.”

But that’s not the half of it. 

The Pebble Tapes from EIA on Vimeo.

Throughout the tapes, Collier and Thiessen talk about the success of their lobbying investments, their relationships with Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy and the White House, and describe how Senators Murkowski and Sullivan are signaling concern about the mine to the Alaskan public but not acting would in no way jeopardize the mine’s permitting success. 

When asked about the Alaska congressional delegation, Collier and Thiessen explain how they have Senators Murkowski and Sullivan ‘in the corner being quiet,” and not acting to protect Bristol Bay. When questioned about permit review and a recent delay, they tell laughter-filled stories of a cozy relationship with David Hobbie, Regional Regulatory Division Chief of the US Army Corps. According to Collier, Hobbie regularly shares information with Pebble and has even preemptively reviewed Pebble’s plans for compensatory mitigation assuring them of their work that “this satisfies all of the issues we raised in our letter” (from August 24th). 

Collier and Thiessen describe how Senators Murkowski and Sullivan are signaling concern for mine with the Alaskan public but acting in no way to protect Bristol Bay.

In addition to federal permitting agencies, Collier and Thiessen explain how they have leveraged their relationship with Alaska Governor Dunleavy to gain support from the Trump Administration. They acknowledge the relationships while explaining how Dunleavy and his Chief of Staff create opportunities to avoid the scrutiny that comes with meeting directly with the White House

All told, the tapes are long and filled with hours of information that should trouble any and all who are concerned about the permitting and political processes surrounding Pebble Mine and the fate of Bristol Bay. 

Following the release of the tapes on Wednesday, our Bristol Bay Defense Fund partners held a press conference for leadership of Bristol Bay to voice their concerns, frustrations, and call for actions from Senators Murkowski and Sullivan. 

Alannah Hurley, Executive Director of United Tribes of Bristol Bay, stated: “We expect to be represented by our elected leadership and to date we have been failed by that leadership. The Alaska senators need to address the content of these tapes, and their silence is support of Pebble Mine. We need them to show leadership for Alaska, that the behavior of this mining company is unacceptable. We need them to condemn the entirety of the content of these tapes and they need to take action now.”

The tapes are filled with hours of information that should trouble any and all who are concerned about the permitting and political processes surrounding Pebble Mine and the fate of Bristol Bay. 

Her dismay was shared by longtime Bristol Bay leader Robin Samuelson and Norm Van Vactor with the Bristol Bay Economic Development Association.  

The news continued Wednesday afternoon when Pebble announced that CEO Tom Collier would be resigning in more fallout from the Pebble Tapes. Following Collier’s resignation, leadership of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure rightly acknowledged that Collier likely lied to the committee last June in a hearing. 

While Collier’s departure is a moment of accountability for Pebble, we need to all recognize that his departure doesn’t end the company’s move to mine in Bristol Bay. The fact remains that Pebble has lied to Alaskans and Americans and Congress about their project. They have worked to leverage every relationship from the Alaska office of the Governor to the White House in order to advance their project. They have developed cozy relationships with political appointees of agencies including the Army Corps and the Environmental Protection Agency and utilized those relationships to advance their project at record breaking pace. 

On Thursday, Sullivan tweeted “Stop Pebble Mine” to clarify his position on the mine. Murkowski retweeted with heart emojis. This was a positive step in the drive to protect Bristol Bay. It’s now time for Alaska’s senators to actually stop the mine, either by calling on the EPA to veto it or by freezing the permitting process via Congressional action. The Pebble Tapes prove that Pebble Limited Partnership can’t be trusted  and should not be entrusted with developing the most important wild salmon stronghold left on Earth. 

The Pebble Tapes prove that the company behind Pebble can’t be trusted. It’s time for Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan to stop Pebble Mine. 

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