Blue States Are Targeting A Planned Alaska Mine

Tim Pearce | Energy Reporter

Two states want to divest more than $103 million from a planned copper mine in southwest Alaska over environmental concerns, Bloomberg Environment reports.

California’s state pension funds hold about $100 million worth of shares in First Quantum Minerals Ltd., the Vancouver-based company investing in the Pebble Mine project. New York’s pension funds hold another $2.5 million worth of shares in the company.

After California’s state treasurer objected at the end of last month to Pebble Mine over environmental concerns, New York’s state comptroller soon followed suit.

“[New York’s threat to divest is] another classic case of an organization or individual taking an action without a comprehensive understanding of the project,” Pebble Mine spokesman Mike Heatwole told Bloomberg.

The states acted just days after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suspended rolling back environmental regulations preventing mining near Bristol Bay, Alaska, where Pebble is located.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt made plans in May to clear regulations around Bristol Bay and allow proposals for development in the area. Bristol Bay has been off limits to such proposals since 2014, when the Obama administration used a rarely referenced provision of the Clean Air Act to prevent mining activities in the area.

A mine “would result in complete loss of fish habitat due to elimination, dewatering, and fragmentation of streams, wetlands, and other aquatic resources” in certain areas around Bristol Bay, home to the world’s most valuable salmon fishery, the EPA found in 2014.

The state pressure to divest probable will not kill the mine, but may force First Quantum Minerals to pursue a more environmentally friendly mining strategy than open pit. If the states do follow through and divest, the mine will likely either secure funds elsewhere, or wait until the mine is more economical.

“This is the biggest undeveloped copper deposit in the world,” independent analyst John Tumazos told Bloomberg. “If the world needs the copper, the price of copper might rise until this is economic.”

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