VANCOUVER Dec 21 A small Canadian miner is
confident Donald Trump's U.S. presidential win will let it
proceed with an application for a copper and gold mine in Alaska
that has been stalled almost three years by environmental
regulators aiming to protect the world's biggest sockeye salmon
Ronald Thiessen, chief executive officer and president of
Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd, said he expected the
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to announce in the first
quarter of 2017 that it will let the application process proceed
for the controversial project. He said the company has held
discussions with Trump's transition team, including Myron Ebell,
who heads the EPA transition.
Shares in Northern Dynasty, which owns the massive Pebble
deposit in southwest Alaska's Bristol Bay region, have more than
doubled since the U.S. election on Nov. 8. The shares surged 23
percent on Nov. 9 alone.
In February 2014, the EPA took the unusual action of
blocking a mine before the project owner applied for a
development permit. The company has estimated that
removing that pre-emptive veto could happen three to four months
after an EPA announcement. This would allow Northern Dynasty to
seek a deep-pocketed partner and resume permitting the project,
one of the world's biggest undeveloped copper and gold deposits.
Trump takes office on Jan. 20. Trump's staff did not respond
to email requests for comment.
According to the EPA, the Bristol Bay watershed supports the
world's largest fishery of sockeye salmon. Environmental groups
oppose the mine, as do many native residents who rely on the
fish as a subsistence food. Many commercial fishermen and sport
fishermen are also opposed.
Last year, U.S. President Barack Obama used a trip to the
area to try to cement his environmental legacy. Overturning the
EPA veto would be a potent symbol of Trump making good on his
promise to remove regulations stopping the expansion of drilling
"It is one of the most stunning projects in the world but
there has been this giant bull's-eye on our back. Nobody wants
to get into this fight with the government," Thiessen said in an
Northern Dynasty launched legal action against the EPA in
May 2014. This October, the two sides agreed to mediation to try
to end their dispute.
Northern Dynasty wants a partner to replace Anglo American
Plc, which spent more than $500 million on the project
before pulling out in 2013 as gold and copper prices fell.
Two months after the EPA's 2014 veto, another global miner
Rio Tinto, at the time Northern Dynasty's biggest
investor, said it would give its 19.1 percent stake to charity.
With prospects reviving for the project and big, long-life
gold and copper deposits increasingly hard to find, "any large
gold or copper mining company is going to be looking at the
Pebble project," said Chris Mancini, research analyst at Gabelli
Funds, which owns shares in Northern Dynasty.
Copper miners such as U.S.-based Freeport-McMoRan
and Canada's Teck Resources might take a look at the
project, independent mining analyst John Tumazos said. Freeport
and Teck declined to comment.
A rally in copper prices since late October has also helped
make the project more valuable.
Yet opponents remain determined to stop Pebble, and Alaska
governor Bill Walker has said he is skeptical of the project.
"If Northern Dynasty is excited about Trump taking office, I
don't know what their crystal ball is showing them," said
Kimberly Williams, director of Nunamta Aulukestai, a non-profit
group of tribal governments and village corporations in the
Bristol Bay area.
"The people in our area are still overwhelming opposed to
(Additional reporting by Valerie Valcovici and Roberta Rampton
in Washington; Editing by David Gregorio)