The controversial Pebble Mine Project got what appeared to be an unexpected boost by the Trump administration in late June when the Environmental Protection Agency announced it was reopening Obama-era environmental regulations on such a project.
Those regulations were voluntarily lifted on July 30 by administrators who had just voiced concerns they had with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ review of the project. There was no public comment period.
Now, according to a report by CNN, the decision was made after the president met with Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy during a June 26 stopover in Alaska. The Midnight Sun has heard similar rumors, which had suggested the change came as a direct result of Dunleavy’s request.
The CNN story stops short of the offering details on the conversation between the two, but strongly links the two with the new series of events that includes a previously unreported meeting that marked a shift in the Trump administration’s approach to the mine.
“The EPA publicly announced the reversal July 30, but EPA staff sources tell CNN that they were informed of the decision a month earlier, during a hastily arranged video conference after Trump’s meeting with Gov. Mike Dunleavy,” explains CNN, later adding, “Four EPA sources with knowledge of the decision told CNN that senior agency officials in Washington summoned scientists and other staffers to an internal videoconference on June 27, the day after the Trump-Dunleavy meeting, to inform them of the agency’s reversal. The details of that meeting are not on any official EPA calendar and have not previously been reported.”
The news reportedly came as a shock to the scientists involved in the project. They assumed they would have weeks or months to review the decision but were told by EPA General Counsel Matthew Leopold that the decision had already been made and there was no further work needed.
“I was dumbfounded,” an EPA insider told CNN. “We were basically told we weren’t going to examine anything. We were told to get out of the way and just make it happen.”
The videoconference was held just a day after Dunleavy met with the president. Dunleavy posted a video from the event where he said Trump assured him that he’s “doing everything he can to work with us on our mining concerns.”
On the campaign trail, Dunleavy had stopped short of saying whether he supported Pebble Mine and instead has stood behind the common talking point of supporting a fair permitting process. He’s long been a fan of mines, having given a shout-out to the Red Dog Mine during his first major post-election appearance at the Alaska Miners Association.
For a governor who’s been pro-development and made “Alaska is open for businesses” the administration’s motto, Dunleavy has been oddly silent about the newfound progress for Pebble Mine. He didn’t issue any statement hailing the July 30 rollback of the Obama-era regulations nor in late June when it was announced that the regulations would be reopened.
Dunleavy did send a letter in late March to the administration that was critical of the Obama-era policies on the mine (it was also in this letter where Dunleavy suggested he would like to transition Alaska’s Medicaid program into a block grant program).
Even then, Dunleavy only referred to Pebble Mine as “the poster child” of conflicts the state was having with the feds over resource development.
But there appears to be plenty more going on behind the scenes.
According to CNN, Dunleavy “had dinner with Tom Collier, the CEO of Pebble Limited Partnership, the project’s developer, in February and spoke to him on the phone in May, according to copies of Dunleavy’s calendar reviewed by CNN. A member of Dunleavy’s administration used to work on the Pebble project in public relations.”
Unlike Dunleavy, Collier released a statement hailing the reversal of the Obama-era regulation. There, he gave credit to Dunleavy for his “leadership in encouraging EPA to withdraw its proposed determination.”
“As Governor Dunleavy clearly recognizes, major companies will not invest in resource development in Alaska if projects can be vetoed before they receive a fair review. Alaska has needed this kind of leadership for years. Governor Dunleavy appears to be fulfilling his pledge to make sure the world knows Alaska is open for business, and supports responsible resource development,” Collier said.