Pebble CEO resigns after secret recordings

The CEO of the company seeking to build the Pebble Mine in Alaska resigned on Wednesday following the release of recordings in which he discussed expanding the giant copper and gold project and touting his close relationships with key state and federal officials who will be weighing whether to approve the mine.

Background: The recordings of the CEO, Tom Collier, that were released this week were made in recent months by activists from the nonprofit Environmental Investigation Agency posing as interested investors in the proposed mine, and quickly inflamed debate over the contentious project.

The Pebble Partnership’s Collier, as well as Ronald Thiessen, CEO of its Canadian parent company Northern Dynasty Minerals, were recorded saying Alaska Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, who oppose the mine, ultimately would not stand in its way. They also argued that while the mine is currently being permitted for 20 years, it could easily last another 160 once it is operational.

The news: “The unethical manner in which these tapes were acquired does not excuse the comments that were made, or the crass way they were expressed,” Thiessen said in a statement. “On behalf of the Company and our employees, I offer my unreserved apology to all those who were hurt or offended, and all Alaskans.”

Thiessen also said the company has long held that in the future it may seek to expand the mine, action that would require additional federal and state permitting.

Collier, a Clinton-era chief of staff at the Interior Department, could have collected multi-million dollar bonuses if the mine received its permits from the Army Corps of Engineers and survived legal challenges. The Corps has not yet issued a decision.

Pebble has brought in former CEO John Shively, who left in 2014, as the company’s interim chief. He served as commissioner of Alaska’s Department of Natural Resources in the late 1990s.

Meanwhile: In a separate statement issued on Tuesday evening, the Army Corps said some of the executives’ statements on the tapes about the permitting process as well as their close relationship with agency officials were “inaccuracies and falsehoods.”

“We have the highest level of trust and confidence in the integrity of our regulatory team,” said Col. Damon Delarosa, the Corps’ Alaska District commander. “As we continue to work through this process, we will continue to uphold and follow applicable laws and regulations.”


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