US: U.S. jewelry retailers oppose large Alaska gold mine

Publisher Name: 
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

ANCHORAGE, Alaska - Just in time for Valentine's Day, five of the
leading U.S. jewellers have sworn off gold that someday could come
from the Pebble Mine, a huge deposit being scoped out by a subsidiary
of a Canadian company near the world's most productive wild sockeye
salmon stream in southwestern Alaska.

The jewellers, including Tiffany & Co., Ben Bridge Jeweller
and Helzberg Diamonds, pledged Tuesday not to knowingly sell jewelry
made from gold that might be extracted from the proposed mine near the
famed Bristol Bay watershed.

"We are committed to sourcing our gold and other materials
in ways that ensure the protection of natural resources such as the
Bristol Bay watershed. We would not want the jewelry we sell to our
customers to jeopardize this important natural resource," the
pledge says.

The other two companies making the pledge to support permanent
protection of the watershed from large-scale mining are Fortunoff and
Leber Jewellers. The five retailers together sold about $2.2 billion
in jewelry in 2006.

Northern Dynasty Mines Inc., a U.S. subsidiary of Canadian
company Northern Dynasty Minerals, is developing the prospect in
partnership with Anglo American, a large mining company with global
operations.

Northern Dynasty spokesman Sean Magee said he was surprised none
of the companies contacted Northern Dynasty before signing the
pledge.

 "Their goal, as I understand it, is to encourage
higher standards of performance," Magee said.

"That is a goal and objective we have agreed with and
endorse."

He said Northern Dynasty would be contacting the retailers this
week to describe Pebble and the approach to the project.

"We have made a commitment to employ the very highest
standards at Pebble," Magee said.

Jon Bridge, co-CEO and general counsel of Seattle-based Ben
Bridge Jeweller, said much more needs to be known about the mine's
possible impacts on fish, the environment and tourism.

"We don't know what this is going to affect," Bridge
said.

"All of those things need to be evaluated before something
as massive as this takes place."

The pledge was made in conjunction with a report by the No Dirty
Gold campaign led by Oxfam America and Earthworks, an advocacy group.
The report describes human rights violations and environmental
concerns at 17 mines around the world, including mines in Indonesia,
Australia, Canada, Romania, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the
Philippines, New Guinea, Ecuador and Ghana. The U.S. mines are in
Alaska, Montana, Colorado and Nevada.

"The watershed is at risk of destruction because of the
proposed development of a massive copper-gold mine and associated
mining district," the report says about Pebble.

So far, 28 jewelry retailers have joined the No Dirty Gold
campaign aimed at irresponsible mining practices, representing $14.5
billion in U.S. jewelry sales - or 23 per cent of the U.S. jewelry
market. Five of those retailers signed the pledge against Pebble.

It is the first time a group of retailers has voiced their
support for protecting an area from mining, said Payal Sampat, with
Earthworks' No Dirty Gold campaign.

The report said more than 80 per cent of gold used in the United
States is for jewelry.

Pebble Mine is estimated to be the second-largest ore deposit of
its type in the world. The mine is divided into two deposits: Pebble
East and Pebble West. Northern Dynasty was interested in an open pit
mine at Pebble West, until exploratory drilling found a deposit of
higher quality gold and copper at Pebble East.

Now, the company along with Anglo American is focusing on Pebble
East, which it estimates contains 19.3 billion kilograms of copper,
1.1 billion grams of gold and 1.2 billion kilograms of molybdenum, a
mineral used to strengthen metal.

Pebble West contains an estimated 11.1 billion kilograms of
copper, 1.2 billion grams of gold and 600 million kilograms of
molybdenum.

The minerals are worth hundreds of billions of dollars.
Production could begin in 2015.

Bobby Andrew, a retired commercial fisherman, said it's important
to think about how the salmon return each year for the commercial
fisherman, the subsistence user, the sport angler and the lodge
owner.

"I think the mine...as large as it is going to be, I don't
think it can coexist with salmon streams and the salmon themselves,"
he said, as he sat down to a salmon lunch.

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AMP Section Name:Natural Resources
  • 183 Environment
  • 188 Consumerism & Commercialism