Welcome to the latest edition of Friday in the Sun, where we try to catch up on and break down the news, rumors and innuendo from this week in Alaska politics… well, mostly the Pebble Tapes this week because, hooboy, there’s a lot going on there.
I also can’t take credit for the title of this week’s edition, which was sent to me by a friend of the blog. You, too, can send dumb ideas, tips and corrections to me at [email protected].
The Pebble Tapes
On Monday, we saw the release of the Pebble Tapes, a series of recordings where now-former Pebble Partnership CEO Tom Collier and Northern Dynasty CEO Ron Thiessen said a bunch of incredibly unsurprising stuff to investigators posing as investors for the deeply controversial project. Over the course of a dozen clips published by the non-profit Environmental Investigation Agency, the duo bragged about essentially buying influence with Alaska’s Republicans, kowtowing Alaska’s congressional delegation and how the mine would long outlive anyone involved in the project today.
There’s plenty of political hay to be made from the tapes, which I’ll touch on through the rest of this column, but the tapes serve as a critical look at just what long-term plans are in store for the mine and how they’ve worked to downplay the mine’s size and operations to appease regulators.
Thiessen and Collier assured the “investors” that the 20-year lifespan of the mine’s initial proposal was just that, initial. The mine would be expanded—perhaps underground—and the initial find would last at least another 160 years. That they planned to pitch a connection with the proposed Donlin Gold Mine to help them shuttle ore out of the mine. That once they had a foothold in Alaska no one would stop them, they argued, and that the state’s current financial crisis could be manipulated to build support for the mine.
“This is a well-worn path that we’re following to build something that allows us to show the community and the state that we can do it, we can do it well, that it’s not dangerous and then we’ll come in at some point in the future and request an extension of the time and probably an expansion of how much we are producing on a daily basis,” Collier said. “Well you know to some extent it’s political. We probably want to file it when there’s a Republican administration instead of a Democratic administration. … I bet you that the state’s going to be pounding on us to do an expansion before we’re ready to do the expansion because they want the revenue.”
The tapes also talk about plans to eventually skirt water treatment at the site, that Pebble Mine would actually just be the first of several mines in the area, and that they’d hope Alaska would foot the bill for a road connecting Donlin to Pebble.
Hey, at least they got to dig themselves at least one big ol’ hole.
Throughout the tapes, Collier bragged about being a big-time financial booster for Alaska Republicans (though he said he’s willing to “brush off my Democratic credentials” if Biden wins), having Gov. Mike Dunleavy at his beck and call and having an inside line on Alaska’s congressional delegation.
Dunleavy has called Collier’s suggestions that they got him to do the mine’s dirty work “embellished” and that “any claims that Gov. Dunleavy contacted White House administration officials on behalf of that company are false.” While Alaska’s congressional delegation can at least say they haven’t been doing the work of the mine with a reasonably straight face, let’s take a quick look at Dunleavy’s efforts to boost the mine:
- President Donald Trump gave the mine a shot in the arm by rolling back Obama-era regulations on the mine, a move that Trump started the day after a meeting between Dunleavy and Trump on Air Force One in July 2019.
- Dunleavy has a knack of finding places in his administration and on the state’s boards for current and former Pebble Mine employees.
- All on his own the governor wrote to potential Pebble Mine investors downplaying Alaskans’ opposition to the mine.
- Oh, but that letter was really an alternative to running back to Alaska to have dinner with those investors at Collier’s request, as was reported by Alaska Public Media. According to that report, “the emails reveal the letter was written, almost entirely, by Pebble.”
- That wasn’t the only nearly verbatim letter the governor sent. Another one sent to the Army Corps of Engineers is almost nearly identical to the form provided by Pebble Mine executives, which is detailed in a CNN report: “Controversial mining company coached Alaska’s governor to lobby White House.”
So while the governor may not have contacted the White House on behalf of the project (unless you count the vice president as part of the White House), the record clearly shows that he’s contacted investors and the Army Corps of Engineers on behalf of the project.
It’s not too much of a surprise that Collier was out of a job as of Wednesday but, hey, the Dunleavy administration’s always hiring.
‘Let me be even more clear: I oppose Pebble Mine. No Pebble Mine.’
That’s what Sullivan posted to Twitter on Thursday in a statement would have been a lot more convincing if it had not come after Collier’s claim that Alaska’s Congressional Delegation is more than happy to play both sides on Pebble, telling the public what they want to hear while doing nothing to actually stop it (see also: Sullivan’s convenient about-face on Supreme Court nominations).
Here’s what Collier said about the delegation’s pre-election statements on Pebble Mine:
“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.
News and notes
While we’ve got Pebble on the mind, here’s a few other things that have slid across our radar this week:
- A lot of chatter about how Josiah Patkotak came down with COVID-19, though debate whether he caught it at an Anchorage-area fundraiser (where others reportedly have come down with it) or somewhere else. Regardless, he had to attend another Anchorage-area fundraiser remotely. It’s almost like the virus doesn’t care about your feelings.
- Word is Recall Dunleavy campaign manager Claire Pywell is taking a leave of absence from the campaign for the next few months. Though the fire behind the recall has certainly cooled this year, there’s still interest in keeping it going and next legislative session could certainly give it plenty of kindling.
- We’ve heard that Forrest Dunbar’s campaign for mayor crossed the $100,000 mark a few weeks ago. It’ll be interesting to see if he can consolidate the crowded progressive field before then. The money ought to go a long way to giving him that advantage.
- Momentarily serious legislative candidate Jeff Landfield was out stumping with his nemesis, Sen. Natasha von Imhof, in her race against Democrat Roselynn Cacy (and write-in racist doofus Stephen Duplantis). Turns out the only thing worse than von Imhof’s handling of everything—Landfield’s main reason for running in the race—is Cacy’s refusal to give Landfield a head-to-head race.
Perhaps the best evidence that Collier overstated his influence in his elections is a look at cash contributions to candidates.
|Sara Rasmussen||$1,750.00||Abe Williams ($500), Mark Hamilton ($1,000), Shalon Harrington ($250)|
|Lance Pruitt||$1,500.00||James Fueg ($250), Abe Williams ($250), Mark Hamilton ($500), Shalon Harrington ($250), John Shively ($250)|
|$1,200.00||James Fueg ($200), Tom Collier ($500), Mark Hamilton ($500)|
|Kelly R. Merrick||$700.00||John Shively ($200), Abe Williams ($250), Shalon Harrington ($250)|
|Laddie Shaw||$700.00||John Shively ($200), Mark Hamilton ($500)|
|Josh Revak||$100.00||John Shively ($100)|
|Sharon Jackson||$100.00||James Feug ($100)|
|Mel Gillis||$100.00||John Shively ($100)|
That’s, of course, assuming that direct campaign contributions are the only way to influence a race. The Republican State Leadership Committee, which takes contributions from dark money groups, plunked down a bunch of cash on the race… it’s almost like we could really use a measure to get after dark money influencing Alaska’s elections. Too bad that we can’t count on legislators to do anything about dark money when that dark money helped them into office. If only there was a voter initiative or something…
But then again, that’s also assuming that direct cash contributions and dark money-fueled independent expenditures are the only way to rile up primary voters into knocking out a bunch of incumbents.
‘What an asshole’
And, finally, the funniest fallout from Pebble Mine was found at Wednesday’s Alaska Marine Highway System reshaping work group meeting where chairman Adm. Tom Barrett left his mic on during a break where his phone pinged and he saw the news.
“Oh, guess what? You know the Pebble CEO guys there, Collier? He just resigned,” Barrett says. “What an asshole, he deserved that.”
“Thank you for prompting me to behave,” he said when a staff member notified him he was on the air and everyone could hear him. No apology.
Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, rejoined the call, “I couldn’t agree with you more.”
And they both laughed.
See the moment starting around 1:49 of this video: