Regardless of whatever Alaska U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan has said publicly about the controversial Pebble Mine, the Pebble Tapes have made one thing clear: That backers of the mine saw Alaska’s junior senator as a gutless speedbump primarily focused on getting reelected.
Calling Sullivan “not as prestigious” as Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, now-former Pebble Partnership CEO Tom Collier gloated with investigators pretending to be potential investors that Sullivan had been kowtowed into submission and that neither he nor Murkowski had the will do anything to actually block the controversial mine.
“Right now they’re just kind of sitting over in a corner and being quiet, OK?” Collier said, claiming that both Murkowski and Sullivan were deeply embarrassed by sounding off on reports that the Trump administration was putting the brakes on the project. “Gosh, it could be a better thing for us because these guys they can’t cause us a problem. … They’re not making bad news stories for us if they’re quiet. … Right now, (Sullivan’s) off in a corner being quiet. So, I think that’s our plan to work with him—is leave him alone and let him be quiet. … He’s gonna try to ride out the election and remain quiet.”
The tapes were such a damning indictment of the Pebble Mine project and its behind-the-scenes efforts to essentially buy influence with Alaska Republicans—including Gov. Mike Dunleavy, state legislators and the congressional delegation—that Collier resigned from his position on Wednesday.
Northern Dynasty, Pebble’s parent company, claims that Collier “embellished” his relationship with Alaska’s politicians, but the damage has been done.
Sullivan’s Democrat-backed independent opponent Dr. Al Gross, a commercial fisherman in addition to being a doctor, has opposed the mine and his campaign seized on the tapes this week to reinforce their long-standing message that Sullivan’s opposition to the mine has been mere lip service.
“Dan Sullivan hides his support for Pebble Mine, hides his 97% party-line voting record,” the ad claims.
The video has been viewed more than 32,000 times since launching on Wednesday.
Sullivan’s campaign manager, Matt Shuckerow, told the Anchorage Daily News that the ad’s an effort to distort the truth and that, “Senator Sullivan has made his position well known. Senator Sullivan does not believe the Pebble Project should move forward; it should not be permitted.”
However, Collier also suggested that any statement Sullivan made against the mine would be an ultimately meaningless maneuver to win the election.
“It’s an age-old practice where when you have constituents, you have important people who support you on two sides of an issue, alright, you try to find ways to satisfy them both,” Collier said.
Today, the Gross campaign called on Sullivan to return campaign contributions made by Collier. According to a search of the Federal Elections Commission’s database, Collier has personally contributed $6,400 to Sullivan’s reelection while all Pebble Partnership employees have contributed a total of $10,650.
“That’s who Dan Sullivan is,” Gross said. “He hides in the corner to avoid showing people what he really stands for. Well, this election, he won’t be able to do that any longer. Dan– return the donations given to you by Pebble mine executives– on behalf of all Alaskans.”
— Dr. Al Gross (@DrAlGrossAK) September 24, 2020
In an interview last month with Al Gross, he told us that he supported any measures that would put a halt to Pebble Mine and criticized Sullivan of only speaking out once the Trump administration put the brakes on the project.
“I’ve been against the Pebble Mine since I was a young kid. I grew up commercial fishing, including in Bristol Bay, and so many of my friends commercial fish out in Bristol Bay even today. Even my daughter has fished out in Bristol Bay. … It’s an incredibly important part of the way of life, the culture and to the indigenous people out there,” he said. “To put a mine the magnitude of Pebble in the headwaters of Bristol Bay is unacceptable. The risk is just too high and the benefits are way too low. Dan Sullivan has had six years to stand up against Pebble Mine. He’s literally been a lapdog to the president since he’s been in power. Dan came out in favor of delaying permitting for Pebble Mine only after President Donald Trump did.
“I’m against Pebble Mine and would do everything I could to veto the permitting of the Pebble Mine,” he said. “Once and for all this project needs to go away.”