Rio Donates Stake in Pebble Project to Two Charities

Rio Tinto Group, the world’s second-largest mining company, donated its 19 percent stake in an Alaskan copper project that’s faced criticism from environmental groups to two charities.

Rio’s holding in the project will be divided equally between the Alaska Community Foundation and the Bristol Bay Native Corporation Education Foundation, the London-based company said today in a statement. Rio said in December it was reviewing a sale of its stake in Northern Dynasty.

Since then a final assessment by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said the proposed copper and gold development may threaten the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery. Rio’s decision follows the withdrawal of fellow mining company Anglo American Plc, which pulled out of the project in December.

Depending on the project’s size and design, a mine may destroy as much as 94 miles (150 kilometers) of salmon streams and 5,350 acres of wetlands, ponds and lakes in the Bristol Bay area, the EPA said in a January statement.

Pebble in southwest Alaska is one of the world’s largest mineral deposits of copper and gold. It’s estimated to hold 81 billion pounds of copper, 5.6 billion pounds of molybdenum and 107 million ounces of gold, according to Northern Dynasty’s website. Northern Dynasty Chief Executive Officer Ron Thiessen said in a statement today he’s hoping to meet with the charities “to better understand their long-term goals and aspirations.”

The Bristol Bay Native Corporation has previously opposed development of Pebble. In December, following Rio’s decision to review its ownership, the corporation’s CEO Jason Metrokin said that “the risks far outweigh the potential benefits.”

Northern Dynasty, based in Vancouver, has a market value of C$99 million ($90 million). It has dropped 27 percent this year, and fell 1.9 percent today to C$1.02 by 9:58 a.m. in Toronto.

“By giving our shares to two respected Alaskan charities, we are ensuring that Alaskans will have a say in Pebble’s future development,” Rio Tinto’s copper chief Jean-Sebastien Jacques said in the statement.

(Corrects to remove reference to charity in sixth paragraph in story first published on April 7.)
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