Today 50 investors representing $105 billion released a letter calling for the U.S. EPA and Congress to permanently protect Alaska’s Bristol Bay, and the world’s largest wild salmon fishery, against large-scale mining. While recognizing 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 the proposed Pebble Mine, a massive open-pit gold and copper project in the Bristol Bay headwaters proposed by Canadian junior mining company Northern Dynasty (NYSE: NAK).
“Pollution from mineral extraction generates very real, but currently unpriced, economic, social, and environmental externalities,” said Jonas Kron, Chief Advocacy Officer of Trillium Asset Management. “We believe 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 annual 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 organizations, and others have long opposed the Pebble Mine.
“Investors recognize that the value of our portfolios is dependent in part on sustainable global economic growth,” said Julie Tanner, Managing Director of Socially Responsible InvestmentsSM at Christian Brothers Investment Services. “It is in our interest for our portfolio companies to recognize 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 inappropriate areas like Bristol Bay.”
The investor letter specifically calls for two actions:
- EPA should 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
- Congress should 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 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers rejected the Pebble Mine 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,” and it would be “contrary to the public interest.”
In August 2020, over 200 businesses sent a letter to the EPA calling for 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.” 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. Mitsubishi 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. 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 (tailings) management.
Important Disclosure: This is not a recommendation to buy or sell any of the securities mentioned. It should not be assumed that investments in such securities have been or will be profitable. The specific securities were selected on an objective basis and do not represent all of the securities purchased, sold or recommended for advisory clients.