Pebble CEO Tom Collier Steps Down Amid Leaked Tapes Controversy (Updated)

It’s been quite a few days for the Pebble Partnership, which has applied for the permit that would bring the Pebble Mine near the waters of Bristol Bay’s vast salmon river drainages. After reports surfaced about recordings of CEO Tom Collier saying some rather damaging statements about the permitting process, Collier resigned from his post on Thursday. Here’s more from the Associated Press:

Collier and Ron Thiessen, Northern Dynasty’s president and CEO, were shown in recorded conversations released this week by a Washington, D.C.-based group called the Environmental Investigation Agency. The recordings were made by individuals the group called “investigators” who had “expressed interest in investment opportunities related to the Pebble project.”

Thiessen, in a release Wednesday, slammed the group’s tactics as unethical. But he said it doesn’t excuse the comments that were made. He apologized “to all those who were hurt or offended, and all Alaskans.” …

Collier in the tapes suggested support from the state for the project and described himself and Gov. Mike Dunleavy as “pretty good friends.” He also suggested Alaska’s two U.S. senators, Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, were “embarrassed” by statements they made raising concerns about the project and were now “in a corner being quiet.”

One of Pebble’s main parent companies, Northern Dynasty Minerals, released the following press release:

September 23, 2020 Vancouver – Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd. (TSX: NDM; NYSE American: NAK) (“Northern Dynasty” or the “Company”) announced today that Tom Collier, CEO of its 100%-owned US-basedsubsidiary Pebble Limited Partnership (the “Pebble Partnership”), has submitted his resignation in light of comments made about elected and regulatory officials in Alaska in private conversations covertly videotaped by an environmental activist group.

Collier’s resignation has been accepted by Northern Dynasty’s senior management and Board of Directors.The Company has named former Pebble Partnership CEO John Shively, a well-known and respected Alaskabusiness and political leader who most recently served as Chairman of the Pebble Partnership’s generalpartner, Pebble Mines Corp., as interim CEO pending a leadership search.

Collier’s comments embellished both his and the Pebble Partnership’s relationships with elected officials and federal representatives in Alaska, including Governor Dunleavy, Senators Murkowski and Sullivan and senior representatives of the US Army Corps of Engineers (“USACE”). The comments were clearly offensive to these and other political, business and community leaders in the state and for this, Northern Dynasty unreservedly apologizes to all Alaskans.

Conversations with Collier, as well as others with Northern Dynasty President & CEO Ron Thiessen, were secretly videotaped by two unknown individuals posing as representatives of a Hong Kong-based investment firm with links to a Chinese State-Owned Enterprise (SOE). A Washington DC-based environmental group, the Environmental Investigation Agency, released the tapes online Monday after obscuring the voices and identities of the individuals posing as investors.

“The unethical manner in which these tapes were acquired does not excuse the comments that were made, or the crass way they were expressed,” said Ron Thiessen, Northern Dynasty President & CEO. “On behalf ofthe Company and our employees, I offer my unreserved apology to all those who were hurt or offended, and all Alaskans.”

A former Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, senior executive with NANA Regional Corporation, and current Alaska Railroad Corporation Director, John Shively said the Pebble Project is too important to the region and the state not to proceed, and for every effort not to be made to develop the project responsibly in the best interests of all Alaskans.

“My priority is to advance our current plan through the regulatory process so we can prove to the state’spolitical leaders, regulatory officials and all Alaskans that we can meet the very high environmental standardsexpected of us,” he said.

Thiessen said the two actors posing as foreign investors on behalf of the Environmental Investigation Agency were clearly trying to entrap the two executives into stating there is a defined plan to expand Pebble beyond the 20-year mine life currently being permitted. In this objective, he said, they clearly failed.

“The mine development proposal currently being evaluated by the USACE, and for which we expect a final Record of Decision this fall, provides for 20 years of mining at an average daily throughput of 180,000 tons, and processing of 1.3 billion tons of mineralized material,” Thiessen said. “What we have said consistently, and is reinforced in the ‘Pebble tapes’ released this week, is the operator of the Pebble mine may decide at some point in the future to propose additional phases of development, but there exists no formal plan to do so today.”

Thiessen added that any extension or expansion of the Pebble Project proposed in future would have to go through a comprehensive, multi-year federal and state permitting process.

Here’s some reaction, first from SalmonState:

“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. 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.”

— Tim Bristol, SalmonState executive director

United Tribes of Bristol Bay led a coalition demanding action from Alaska political leaders:

DILLINGHAM, AK – Bristol Bay leaders called on Alaska’s Senators to stand up for Bristol Bay and stop the proposed Pebble Mine in light of recent news about the depth of the company’s deceptions and illicit support from state and federal leaders and regulators.
“We expect to be represented by our elected leadership and to date we have been failed by that leadership,” said United Tribes of Bristol Bay Executive Director Alannah Hurley during a September 23 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.”
Recordings recently released by the Environmental Investigation Agency revealed disturbing deceptions from Pebble and its parent company Northern Dynasty as they seek to build one of the world’s largest open pit mines at the headwaters of Bristol Bay’s fishery, directly threatening the lands and waters that sustain Bristol Bay and feed the world. The tapes show that the company has been deceitful in its work to permit the unwanted mine, portray the state and federal government as complicit in the company’s efforts, and assert that Alaska’s senators have allowed this to occur while paying lip service to their constituents.
“The Army Corps of Engineers has been providing information months in advance to the Pebble Partnership, of issues that they’re not sharing with the other cooperating agencies, which they’re required to do. Lies and collusions have been allowed to become routine, sadly, not the exception. It is really time once and for all for our state and federal officials to do the right thing and send these foreign interests and shysters packing and do what is right for the people of Bristol Bay, Alaska and our country,” said Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp. CEO Norm Van Vactor.
Van Vactor added: “The sun’s up in Bristol Bay. The seasons are changing. We are hopeful. We are encouraged that some of this additional information is coming to light, it just confirms what a lot of us have known and suspected, and we are hopeful that our elected leadership will pay closer attention and really do what is right for their constituents, the people of Bristol Bay and the people of Alaska. We hope to see a new day.”
“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. And I’m demanding that our Senators take action. Show the people of Alaska, show the people of Bristol Bay, if you really have concerns about Pebble Mine, then speak up and take action against Pebble,” said Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay Advisor (and longtime commercial fisherman) Robin Samuelsen.
Samuelsen added: “That’s all they talked about in those tapes, Pebble getting a ROD (record of decision ). But I’ll tell you. When I was a kid and being very mischief, 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.”
“The reality is, the Senators have many options for action. They could come out in opposition to this project. It’s very clear it will have devastating impacts on Bristol Bay, make that clear to the Trump Administration. They could work to limit funding for the permitting process through the appropriations process but what is most important is that they not sit quietly in the corner any longer,” said UTBB Executive Director Alannah Hurley.
A recording of the press conference is available at
### Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation represents 17 CDQ communities & exists to promote economic growth and opportunities for Bristol Bay residents through sustainable use of the Bering Sea fisheries.
Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay is a national coalition of fishermen working to protect Bristol Bay, Alaska and the 14,000 jobs, $500 million in annual income, and $1.5 billion in economic activity that Bristol Bay’s wild salmon provide.
United Tribes of Bristol Bay is a tribal consortium representing 15 Bristol Bay tribal governments (that represent over 80 percent of the region’s total population) working to protect the Yup’ik, Dena’ina, and Alutiiq way of life in Bristol Bay.

Update: Here’s Alannah Hurley of UTBB with a statement:

United Tribes of Bristol Bay Executive Director Alannah Hurley made the following statement:“Tom Collier’s resignation from the Pebble Limited Partnership does not address any of the real issues with the Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay. His resignation is the Pebble Limited Partnership trying to dodge responsibility for the corrupt permitting process it orchestrated. Mr. Collier should not be allowed to be the scapegoat. His resignation does nothing to address the deep-seated flaws and issues with the Pebble Mine’s rigged permitting processes and political influence. Mr. Collier’s resignation does not wipe the slate clean. The entire permitting process needs to be halted immediately and investigations into what took place during Mr. Collier’s leadership of PLP need to occur.”

And some more social media buzz: