Pebble CEO resigns after scandal caused by secret recordings
The Pebble Partnership's CEO Tom Collier has resigned in the fallout of secretly recorded videos that were posted online Monday, 21 September.
Parent company Northern Dynasty Minerals published a statement announcing that John Shively will step back into the role of CEO for the partnership on an interim basis. Shively has been serving as chairman of the board for Pebble since 2014, when he handed off the title of CEO to Collier.
“The unethical manner in which these tapes were acquired does not excuse the comments that were made, or the crass way they were expressed,” Northern Dynasty President and CEO Ron Thiessen, who was also recorded on the tapes said. “On behalf of the Company and our employees, I offer my unreserved apology to all those who were hurt or offended, and all Alaskans.”
Bristol Bay leaders and advocates held a press conference Wednesday, 23 September, before the resignation was made public, to call for a full investigation into Pebble Ltd. and Northern Dynasty Minerals, based on the information revealed in the tapes.
"These tapes just illustrate the level of deceitful practices that these folks have been engaged in and quite frankly the Army Corps of Engineers Alaska Division has been complicit to," Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp. CEO Norm Van Vactor said. "So how can they be trusted? They absolutely cannot be trusted at this point in time."
On Tuesday, 22 September, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released a short statement.
"We are aware of the Environmental Investigation Agency’s recorded conversations," said the press release. "Upon review of the transcripts, we have identified inaccuracies and falsehoods relating to the permit process and the relationship between our regulatory leadership and the applicant’s executives."
“We have the highest level of trust and confidence in the integrity of our regulatory team,” Alaska District Commander Col. Damon Delarosa said. “As we continue to work through this process, we will continue to uphold and follow applicable laws and regulations.”
The tapes also showed Collier and Northern Dynasty President and CEO Ronald Thiessen describing Alaska's senators as quietly siding with the mine's investors while holding critics at arm's length, and using Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy as a foil for direct access to the Trump administration.
“We expect to be represented by our elected leadership, and to date we have been failed by that leadership,” said Alannah Hurley, executive director of the United Tribes of Bristol Bay, during the press conference. “The Alaska senators need to address the content of these tapes, and their silence is support of Pebble Mine. We need them to show leadership for Alaska, that the behavior of this mining company is unacceptable. We need them to condemn the entirety of the content of these tapes and they need to take action now.”
Dunleavy’s office said Collier and Thiessen “embellished their relationships with state and federal officials at all levels.”
U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) said “it’s clear that the company executives are floundering.”
U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said she is not sitting “quiet in the corner” to allow the project to move ahead, as suggested in the videos.
“Both senators came out yesterday and simply referenced their previous statements. To me, that’s not good enough. We are at the point where this mine may be permitted. These tapes came out and showed that these people are lying to all of us. All of us are being lied to," said Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay Adviser Robin Samuelsen, who is a Dillingham resident and longtime Bristol Bay fisherman.
Collier stood to rake in a USD 4 million (EUR 3.4 million) bonus with a favorable Record of Decision from the Army Corps of Engineers. Another USD 8.4 million (EUR 7.2 million) awaited the mine's surviving an expected legal challenge of the decision.
“That’s all they talked about in those tapes, Pebble getting a ROD [record of decision]," Samuelsen said. "But I’ll tell you. When I was a kid … I got the rod. And it was on my hind end. And that’s what I’m asking Senator Sullivan and Senator Murkowski to do. Take out the rod, it’s time to spank ’em. They’ve lied to you, they’ve lied to us out in Bristol Bay, they’ve lied to Alaska, and they’ve lied to the world.”
During the conference, Bristol Bay advocates pushed forward ideas for the next steps needed to ensure that region is protected and the mine's operators exposed for what appear to be secret plans devised to slip the first phase of the mine past the permitting process to open the door for expansion later.
"It's almost laughable to say that you're going to build a mine that's going to hold toxic waste for eternity – which will eventually expand out to a megamine, which was confirmed by these tapes," said Hurley, adding that a delay on the Corps' decision (which was already delayed 90 days as of 24 August to allow Pebble Corp. time to submit a mitigation plan) is not an adequate solution.
"At this point, with what is undeniable evidence, that we are dealing with a company that has lied to everyone, that their permit application is really null and void because it doesn't capture what they actually plan to do and we're facing a process that has completely failed to address these issues, a delay is not good enough," Hurley said. "We need this to be thrown out. If there is going to be [another] delay, a complete start over of this process is warranted."
The news of Collier's resignation broke hours after the press conference.
"His resignation does nothing to address the deep-seated flaws and issues with the Pebble Mine’s rigged permitting processes and political influence," Hurley said. "His resignation is the Pebble Limited Partnership trying to dodge responsibility for the corrupt permitting process it orchestrated."
In October 2019, Collier submitted testimony to the House Subcommittee on Water Resources and the Environment, declaring that “Pebble has planned a smaller, smarter mine” with “no current plans, in its application or in any other way, for expansion.” The videos document both Collier and Thiessen discussing plans for expansion.
“Tom Collier is only leaving the Pebble Partnership because he got caught. Deception, dishonesty, greed, and hubris are in the DNA of this company and at the heart of its existence. Pebble lies. We have always known this and now, thanks to these tapes, the rest of world knows it as well," SalmonState Executive Director Tim Bristol said. "Tom Collier was not the source of this corruption – he is indicative of it. In the wake of this week’s events, it’s imperative our leaders call for a halt to the Army Corps planning process, which was exposed as broken almost beyond belief.”
Photo courtesy of National Fisherman