Shareholders file Pebble Mine class-action suit, parent company plans appeal of permit rejection
A group of shareholders has filed a class action lawsuit against Northern Dynasty, claiming the company and its directors misled shareholders about the viability of the proposed Pebble Mine and that its stock prices were artificially inflated between 21 December, 2017, and 25 November, 2020.
Northern Dynasty is the parent company of the Pebble Limited Partnership, which owns the mineral rights to the Pebble deposit and has been promoting the mine to investors and engaging in the permitting process with Alaska's U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
On 25 November, the Corps denied the permit application, stating the proposal did not "comply with Clean Water Act guidelines." The stock took a nosedive of more than 50 percent immediately following the announcement. The permit process had been considered all but dead before the 2016 election of U.S. President Donald J. Trump, whose administration allegedly negotiated with Pebble officials to allow the permitting process to run its course.
On 17 December, 2020, two days after the class action filing, Northern Dynasty published a press release detailing its plans to file an appeal of the Corps' decision, citing the quality of its mitigation plan to compensate for the degradation of habitat in the process of mining the deposit's heavy metals.
“I am very confident in saying I believe our [compensatory mitigation plan] is both compliant with the Clean Water Act and fully responsive to the Corps’ demand. So we were shocked when they found our plan to be non-compliant, and even more so that they didn’t provide any opportunity to respond to alleged deficiencies,” Northern Dynasty CEO Ronald Thiessen said in the release.
The class action suit references the controversial Pebble Tapes and specifically mentions Thiessen and Tom Collier, who resigned as Pebble CEO shortly after the tapes were released. The suit alleges, based on the evidence provided in the tapes, that Northern Dynasty misled the public and violated the Securities Exchange Act of 1934.
However, advocates for Bristol Bay's wild salmon habitat, commercial fisheries, and coastal subsistence communities say the permit denial is not the end of the road. They are seeking permanent protections for the region as can be declared by Congress or the Environmental Protection Agency. U.S. President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. has declared his support for protections in the region, which would be in keeping with the Obama administration's efforts to offer Clean Water Act protections for Bristol Bay.
"Pebble's appeal makes clear the need for permanent protections for Bristol Bay that ensure no company, Pebble or otherwise, will be allowed to operate a toxic, large-scale hard rock mine in the waters that support our fishery and all it sustains," said Lindsay Layland, deputy director of the United Tribes of Bristol Bay. "We hope our elected leaders will work quickly to enact permanent protections, such as those outlined in our 'Call to Protect Bristol Bay' — Clean Water Act 404C protections and congressional action to establish a protective National Fisheries Area.”
Anyone who bought stocks between 21 December, 2017, and 25 November, 2020, have until 2 February, 2021, to join the lawsuit as lead plaintiffs.
Reporting by Jessica Hathaway/National Fisherman
Photo courtesy of Corey Arnold/National Fisherman