Pebble foes ‘appalled’ Dunleavy sent a letter the mining company wrote for him

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy meets with President Donald Trump on Air Force One during a layover at Joint Base Elmenorf-Richardson in Anchorage, June 26, 2019. (Photo by Sheila Craighead/White House)

Opponents of the Pebble Mine are outraged by a CNN report showing that Gov. Mike Dunleavy has signed letters helpful to the mine that were essentially written by Pebble Limited Partnership.

“I was appalled,” said Katherine Carscallen, director of Commercial Fishermen of Bristol Bay. “I mean we’ve known that this administration is working closely with the Pebble Partnership, but this goes above and beyond what I ever suspected.”

She and other fishermen say the proposed mine would threaten salmon streams that flow into the Bay, endangering the region’s economy and cultures.

CNN’s report is drawn from emails it obtained through a records request of the governor’s office. It focuses on one letter in particular. Dunleavy sent it in April to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, objecting to an extension of a public comment period. It was lifted nearly word for word from a draft letter Pebble’s chief of staff emailed to the governor’s office.

“We have a good relationship with him because he understands our industry and has repeatedly stated he wants a fair process for all resource projects in Alaska,” Pebble said in a written response to the CNN story. “Exactly what we have sought.”

Dunleavy spokesman Jeff Turner said it’s common practice for an administration to request “briefing materials” about particular projects.

But mine opponent Rick Halford said the CNN report shows Pebble and the governor’s office are coordinating to an extent that’s inappropriate.

“Basically (they’re) using the governor’s office as a pass-through for Pebble propaganda,” said Halford, a former state senator.

He also said Dunleavy has undercut his claim that he’s only interested in a fair process by letting Pebble write his letters.

“I generally believed the governor when he said he hadn’t taken a position” on Pebble, Halford said. “But this doesn’t really fit very well with that.”

Pebble needs a Corps of Engineers permit to develop the gold deposit in southwest Alaska. Other government agencies have criticized a draft environmental study the Corps prepared, saying it likely understates the risk.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski has given those concerns extra emphasis by including a reference to them in a bill Congress passed this week.

Murkowski said the Corps, a few months ago, seemed to be dismissing the concerns raised by federal and state agencies about the adequacy of the draft environmental impact statement.

“It was almost as if they weren’t taking to heart as legitimate these issues that had been raised by the various agencies,” she said.

She had not yet read the CNN story, but she said it is common for policymakers to get draft letters or suggestions from interest groups and advocates.

“You say, ‘Well, that’s helpful, thank you,'” she said. “But I don’t take that letter and then put my signature block at the end of it and pass that off as mine. That’s not what I do.”

The only substantive differences between the letter Dunleavy wrote to the Corps in April and the version Pebble drafted for him relate to Murkowski. The senator had asked the Corps to extend its public comment period on the environmental report.

Pebble’s ghostwritten letter is written as a rebuttal to her request.

The governor’s letter argues against the request without mentioning Murkowski.

The Pebble letter’s fourth paragraph, for instance, begins: “Senator Murkowski cites the comment period for the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) 2012 first draft …”

Dunleavy’s fourth paragraph begins: “There has been discussion about the comment period for the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) 2012 first draft …”

Both versions are written in the first-person, with an identical sentence that reads: “When I took office, my top priority was to grow Alaska’s economy by letting the world know Alaska was open for business and encourage companies around the globe to invest in our state.”