Tiffany CEO: Alaska Gold Mine Is Potential “Disaster”

Tiffany & Co. chairman and CEO Michael J. Kowalski is calling on fellow jewelers to take a stand against the proposed Pebble Partnership gold and copper mine in Alaska’s Bristol Bay.

“I think the jewelry industry needs to speak up,” he tells JCK. “It’s in the collective interest of our industry that this mine not be built.”

“We recognize that mining is essential to our business,” he continues. “Customers expect precious metals and gemstones to be mined responsibly. Jewelry customers want a clean transparent supply chain that they can feel good about.”

The mine has been plagued by controversy, with environmental groups rallying members against it and Alaska Senator Mark Begich coming out in opposition.

Tiffany has spoken up against the project in the past and in 2008 hosted the screening of an anti-mine film. But Kowalski says it’s been quieter lately, pending the release of the Environmental Protection Agency’s watershed assessment of the mine. 

In January, that assessment was released, with the agency determining that the mine’s construction presents “numerous risks” to the area’s ecology, particularly its salmon-supporting streams and wetlands. And now Kowalski says Tiffany plans to become vocal again and will take out ads urging the EPA to block its construction.

The Pebble Partnership has responded by calling the EPA’s verdict “flawed,” noting it was based on a “hypothetical mine.”

But Kowalski countered that the whole idea of locating a gold and copper producer in the world’s largest salmon fishery is flawed in the first place. 

“There are many people who sincerely doubt, under the best of circumstances, why anyone would propose building a mine in that area,” he says. “You would need to build the world’s longest tailing dam. The possibility of this ending in disaster is so high, it’s hard to see how any mining company could go forward.”

He noted that former joint partner Anglo American has already walked away from the project, and Rio Tinto said it is considering divesting from current 100 percent owner Northern Dynasty.

The following is the text of an open letter from Kowalski to the industry covering this issue:

The Environmental Protection Agency has completed its final watershed assessment of the likely impact of the proposed Pebble Mine on Alaska’s Bristol Bay, the world’s most productive salmon fishery.  The science is clear and leaves no doubt.   The EPA’s comprehensive scientific review confirms that digging an enormous gold and copper mine in the very heart of this healthy, productive watershed cannot be done without destroying miles of streams, thousands of acres of wetlands and endangering the livelihoods of the thousands of people who depend on the salmon fishery. 

It is time for the voice of America’s jewelers to be heard.  We recognize our businesses depend upon a healthy mining industry for the precious materials we use, but we also know there are certain magnificent places where mines should never be built.  Bristol Bay is one such place.   Mitsubishi and Anglo-American have already withdrawn from the Pebble project, and Rio Tinto is examining its position.  American jewelers should join now with Alaskan natives, commercial and sport fishers, elected officials, and concerned citizens in speaking out against this mine’s development. 

We urge you to encourage the Environmental Protection Agency to use its authority under the Clean Water Act to protect – for the benefit of all Americans – this extraordinary natural resource and the thousands of commercial and sport fishing jobs it supports.  We know there will be other gold and copper mines to develop.  But we will never find a more majestic and productive place than Bristol Bay.

JCK News Director