Fifty investors, managing $105-billion in assets, released a letter on April 8 calling for the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Congress to permanently protect Alaska’s Bristol Bay, and the world’s largest wild salmon fishery, against large-scale mining.
While recognising the importance of natural resource development to support economic growth, the signatories expressed deep concern over the long-term negative social and environmental impacts of Canadian junior mining company Northern Dynasty’s proposed Pebble mine, an openpit gold and copper project, in the Bristol Bay headwaters.
“Pollution from mineral extraction generates very real, but currently unpriced, economic, social, and environmental externalities,” said Trillium Asset management chief advocacy officer Jonas Kron, who added that the company believes the Bristol Bay salmon fishery has “too much economic and inherent value to risk on the short-term benefits of a large-scale mine like Pebble”.
Bristol Bay supports the largest and most productive wild salmon fishery on earth, supplying half of the world’s commercial supply of wild sockeye salmon, $2.2-billion in yearly revenue, 15 000 jobs, and sustaining Alaska Native communities that have relied on the salmon for millennia.
Bristol Bay Native Tribes, commercial fishermen, business leaders, conservation organisations, and others have long opposed the Pebble mine, the letter indicated.
“Investors recognise that the value of our portfolios is dependent in part on sustainable global economic growth,” said Christian Brothers Investment Services socially responsible investments director Julie Tanner, noting that it is in the interest of its portfolio companies to “recognise the important role of environmental and social impacts”.
“We therefore believe it is critically important for mining activity to not occur in ecologically and culturally [important] areas like Bristol Bay,” she added.
The investor letter specifically calls for two actions, namely that the EPA “use its authority under Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act to immediately restrict mine waste disposal in wetlands, rivers and streams within the Bristol Bay watershed”; and that Congress enact legislation to establish a National Fisheries Area to provide permanent federal protection against large-scale mining within the Bristol Bay watershed.
In November 2020, the US Army Corps of Engineers rejected the Pebble mine’s permit application after determining that its development would “cause unavoidable adverse impacts” to aquatic resources.
The Corps concluded that the mine, as proposed, “cannot be permitted under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act,” stating that it would be “contrary to the public interest”.
In August 2020, over 200 businesses sent a letter to the EPA calling for Section 404(c) protections, calling it the “economically responsible thing to do at a time when our country cannot afford to lose more jobs, income, or domestic food production”.
According to Trillium, “this illustrates the point that widely diversified investors consider not only how a particular project will impact a specific company or investment, but also how it impacts other aspects of a portfolio”.
Global mining interests have also been distancing themselves from the Pebble proposal, the statement further read, with investors like Mitsubishi having pulled out of the project in 2011, followed by Anglo American in 2013 and Rio Tinto in 2015.
First Quantum terminated its agreement to invest in the project in 2018.
Investor interest in responsible mining practices has increased in recent years, and in the wake of several catastrophic mine failures in recent years. Investors representing over $21-trillion in assets sent a letter to over 350 mining companies asking them to support the development of a global standard for mine waste or tailings management.