Professional Jeweler Archive: Tiffany & Co. Speaks Out Against Montana Mine

May 2004

First Run


Tiffany & Co. Speaks Out Against Montana Mine

Retailer pays for open-letter plea to chief of U.S. Forest Service in The Washington Post


T iffany & Co. publicly opposed a proposed silver and copper mine in Montana in a March 24 letter it paid to publish in The Washington Post. The letter asks U.S. Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth to block construction of the mine, which would be drilled under the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness Area near the Montana-Idaho border.

“This huge mine would discharge millions of gallons of wastewater per day, conveying pollutants to the Clark Fork River and ultimately into Lake Pend Oreille in Idaho, a national treasure in its own right,” says the letter, signed by Michael J. Kowalski, chairman and CEO of Tiffany. Opponents of the mine, concentrated in the resort town of Sandpoint, ID, were thrilled by the ad, according to press reports.

Background

Asarco Inc. proposed the Rock Creek mine in 1987 after trying for 12 years to secure permits before selling its interest to the Sterling Mining Co., Spokane, WA. Despite intense local opposition, last year the USFS reissued its approval of the mine. The agency said it had no choice but to approve the mine under the U.S. General Mining Act of 1872.

Nine environmental groups then sued the federal government. The pending lawsuit contends the federal mitigation plan for the mine won’t protect threatened grizzly bears and bull trout. The mining company wants to drill three miles of tunnels under the wilderness area to extract precious metals over three decades. The mine would discharge up to 3 million gallons of wastewater into the Clark Fork River a day.

The mine’s opponents in Idaho include local business and government officials who generally support development. They fear pollutants would travel down the Clark Fork River into Lake Pend Oreille, a major job source in the tourism-driven Sandpoint economy.

Tiffany called for reform of the 1872 law, which threw open the West for mining. “We at Tiffany & Co. understand that mining must remain an important industry,” the letter says. “But like some other businesses benefiting from trade in precious metals, we also believe that reforms are urgently needed.”

Government Response

The Bush administration told the Associated Press Tiffany’s letter was error-filled and declined to elaborate. Mining interests also criticized Tiffany, suggesting it was responding to threats of boycotts of its jewelry from environmentalists opposed to the mine.

Tiffany’s comeback: “It is by no means the first time that we have communicated with appropriate government officials about our desire to see precious metals and gemstones extracted in environmentally and socially responsible ways. Our record on that score goes back nearly a decade.” Bosworth planned to meet with Kowalski April 15.

Copyright © 2004 by Bond Communications