The Environmental Investigation Agency records Pebble CEO Tom Collier speaking on a call with people posing as investors. (Photo: Environmental Investigation Agency)

By Jennifer Jensen

The CEO of the Pebble Limited Partnership has stepped down after an environmental group released tapes that show him making comments about his close relationship with elected and regulatory officials in Alaska.

Tom Collier submitted a resignation letter to parent company, Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd., which said his comments “embellished both his and Pebble Partnership’s relationships with elected officials and federal representatives in Alaska, including Gov. Dunleavy, Sens. [Lisa] Murkowski and [Dan] Sullivan and senior representatives of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.”

The videos, which were secretly recorded by individuals posing as investors, were released by the Environmental Investigation Agency and contain conversations with Collier and others with Northern Dynasty President and CEO Ron Thiessen.

In the videos, Collier described the governor as a friend and that he has had private dinners with him in his mansion in Juneau. “Like I said, we talk on a regular basis,” he said. He also said the governor’s chief of staff, Ben Stevens, served on the Pebble Advisory Committee prior to the governor taking office.

Thiessen also described easy access to the White House. “We can talk to the chief of staff of the White House any time we want,” he said.

Comments were also made describing relationships with Murkowski and Sullivan and what both men believed to be support from them regarding the project. Thiessen also discussed Murkowski’s father, a former governor, who accompanied him and others to meet with Rio Tinto, BHP and Anglo American to invite them in on the project.

Collier said Murkowski sits on the fence regarding the issue. “She threw a bone to those constituents that are against us in the committee report but when it really mattered she didn’t do anything,” he added.

Regarding Sullivan, Collier said Pebble Mines Corp. Chairman John Shively rents an apartment from Sullivan’s state director. “And the two of them have worked together for 20 years so John knows her well and talks to her regularly,” he said. He added that Shively has been told Sullivan is “gonna try to ride out the election and remain quiet.”

Northern Dynasty said the comments were “clearly offensive” to the political leaders mentioned, as well as other political, business and community leaders in Alaska.

In addition to comments about their relationships with political and regulatory officials, several comments were made regarding the size of the Pebble project and possibility of expansion.

Thiessen said the two actors posing as foreign investors on behalf of the Environmental Investigation Agency were 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 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, multiyear federal and state permitting process.

“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. “On behalf of the company and our employees, I offer my unreserved apology to all those who were hurt or offended, and all Alaskans.”

The company named former Pebble Partnership CEO Shively, who most recently served as chairman of the Pebble Partnership’s general partner, Pebble Mines Corp., as interim CEO pending a leadership search.

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

In July, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a final Environmental Impact Statement for Alaska’s Pebble Project. Northern Dynasty said it expects to receive a final Record of Decision this fall.