Tiffany & Co. Speaks Out Against Montana Mine

March 25, 2004

Tiffany & Co. Speaks Out Against Montana Mine

A proposed silver and copper mine in Montana has drawn the ire of Tiffany & Co, reports the Associated Press. On March 24, it paid for an open letter in The Washington Post asking 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," said the letter signed by Michael J. Kowalski, chairman and CEO of Tiffany. Officials for the USFS, which has already approved the mine, did not immediately return telephone messages for comment.

Opponents of the mine, concentrated in the resort town of Sandpoint, ID, were thrilled by the ad. "The jewelers at Tiffany's know a valuable gem when they see one, and Lake Pend Oreille is the biggest gem in Idaho," said Mary C. Mitchell, director of the Sandpoint-based Rock Creek Alliance.

The Rock Creek mine was proposed in 1987 by Asarco Inc. The company tried for a dozen years to secure permits before eventually selling its interest to the Sterling Mining Co., based in Spokane, WA. Despite intense local opposition, the USFS last year reissued its approval of the mine. The agency said that under the federal mining act of 1872, it had no choice but to allow the mine.

That prompted nine environmental groups to sue the federal government. The pending lawsuit contends the federal mitigation plan for the mine will not protect threatened grizzly bears and bull trout. The mining company wants to drill three miles of tunnels under the wilderness area so it can extract precious metals over three decades. The mine would discharge up to three million gallons of wastewater a day into the Clark Fork River.

The mine has drawn an unusual coalition of opponents in conservative Idaho, including local business and government officials generally supportive of development. They fear mine pollutants will travel down the Clark Fork River into Lake Pend Oreille, one of the largest lakes in the West and a major job source in the tourism-driven economy of the Sandpoint area.

Tiffany called for reform of the 1872 law, which threw open the West for mining development. "We at Tiffany & Co. understand that mining must remain an important industry," the letter said. "But like some other businesses benefiting from trade in precious metals, we also believe that reforms are urgently needed." This is the first time a major jewelry company has taken such a public stance calling for reform of the mining industry, according to Earthworks, a Washington, DC, environmental group. "We applaud the leadership, vision and business sensibility of Tiffany & Co. on this issue," said Stephen D'Esposito, president of Earthworks.

Sign me up for