By Michelle Graff
London--Anglo American PLC announced Monday that it is no longer going to take part in the development of the Pebble mine in Alaska, a project that has sparked heated debated between mining companies and local residents because of its environmental implications.

According to a release from the London-based miner, it gave notice of the withdrawal of its U.S. subsidiary, Anglo American (US) Pebble LLC, to the Pebble Limited Partnership. This is the partnership Anglo formed with an affiliate of Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd. back in 2007 to construct what would have been the largest open-pit copper and gold mine in North America.

Anglo American Chief Executive Mark Cutifani said that even though the company believes Pebble is a “deposit of rare magnitude and quality” it is withdrawing after re-evaluating its long-dated project options.

“Our focus has been to prioritize capital to projects with the highest value and lowest risks within our portfolio, and reduce the capital required to sustain such projects during the pre-approval phases of development as part of a more effective, value-driven capital allocation model,” he said.

After the withdrawal, the project will proceed under the sole leadership of Northern Dynasty Minerals, Anglo said. Details on Anglo’s withdrawal still are being worked out between the two companies.

If built, the Pebble mine would sit along the watershed of Alaska’s Bristol Bay, home to the world’s last wild sockeye salmon fishery.

Local fishermen and environmental groups have protested the mine’s development, claiming the project would damage the bay’s delicate ecosystem, and a number of large jewelry retailers have joined in the fight.

Led by Tiffany & Co., which held a screening of a documentary about the mine’s development, called Red Gold, in New York back in 2008 when the issue first surfaced, a number of retailers signed the Bristol Bay Protection Pledge and vowed never to source gold from Pebble.

Development of the mine remains hung up in the permitting process.

According to Bonnie Gestring of Earthworks, one of the environmental groups against Pebble, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a revised watershed assessment of the project in May, and it concluded the proposed mine would be even more detrimental to the Bristol Bay salmon fishery than originally believed.

She said the study was posted online for comments until the end of June and a final copy is expected to be released this fall, followed by a decision from the EPA on initiating the 404c process, which allows the agency to restrict or prohibit mine waste disposal in Bristol Bay streams and wetlands.

If this happens, it may be “infeasible” to develop the mine, Gestring said. 

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