Gov. Mike Dunleavy met with President Donald Trump on Air Force One for about 20 minutes during a refueling stop in Anchorage on June 26.
“The president does care very much about the state of Alaska, he likes the state of Alaska, and we just had a very good meeting,” Dunleavy said in a video posted to Twitter.
While Dunleavy refused to inform Alaskans about the details of their discussion—other than to say that topics included mining, timber and tariffs—he told promoters of the Pebble Mine that good news was on the way. He said he had received a promise from Trump to get the EPA out of the way.
According to the promoters of the project, Dunleavy received a pledge from Trump that the Environmental Protection Agency would reverse the so-called “preemptive veto” issued by the Obama administration in 2014.
While Dunleavy and Trump talked on the tarmac at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, the Pebble Partnership was in a state of panic because of an EPA press release issued earlier that day in Washington, D.C.
A couple of hours before Dunleavy met Trump, Pebble Mine Chief of Staff Shalon Harrington emailed talking points for Dunleavy to use on the president, according to one of the documents revealed in a CNN investigation of Dunleavy’s behind-the-scenes advocacy of the Pebble Mine.
The email went to Brett Huber, a Dunleavy aide, described by the Pebble executive in another email as a “rock star” for his skill at promoting Pebble’s interests.
The email, with “Talkers” as the subject line, said Pebble was near collapse and needed immediate action by Trump to keep it alive.
The company was furious at EPA’s top lawyer, Matt Leopold, claiming he had advanced an argument that was “total BS” in the memo that was the basis of the June 26 EPA press release.
“This is a young, inexperienced kid at EPA using belts and suspenders, when neither are needed. He could have announced today that the veto was withdrawn—the law does not require the process the EPA general counsel set out in his memo,” the Pebble Mine promoters said Dunleavy should tell Trump.
“Today’s EPA announcement says—literally—we may withdraw the preemptive veto, we may not. Not only does it not withdraw the proposed veto, it sends the market a screaming message that EPA may still kill the project even if they get a permit from the Corps of Engineers.”
The talking points proposed that Dunleavy tell Trump: “Before the proposed veto Pebble stock was at over $20 a share—today it is at 50 cents. They tell me they will die if they can’t do a deal with an investor in the next few weeks. They tell me they need the veto lifted in order to do the deal.”
“Pebble can’t raise the money it needs in this environment. It will likely die in the next few weeks,” the talking points said.
Pebble even ghost-wrote a line in Dunleavy’s voice, “My message that Alaska is open for business will be ‘Trumped’ by EPA’s contrary message.”
Pebble Mine wanted Dunleavy to ask Trump to tweet his opposition to the EPA veto, which would overshadow the EPA press release: “This could save Pebble. It is the president publicly sending a signal that the veto will likely be withdrawn.”
There was no tweet, but the next day the EPA changed its position, though that reversal was not announced publicly until the end of July.
“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,” CNN reported Aug, 9.
The proof that Pebble had inside knowledge of the Trump-Dunleavy June 26 discussion is in another email CNN referred to in its investigation, an email sent by Harrington to Dunleavy’s office on July 3.
Remember, the EPA reversal June 27 on the veto was not publicly known on July 2, the day when Alaska Public Media posted a story on the formal EPA comments on the draft environmental impact statement for Pebble.
The EPA comments, signed by Chris Hladick, the regional administrator in Seattle, said the Army Corps of Engineers had underestimated the proposed mine’s impact on Bristol Bay water quality and fish habitat.
Hladick alleged in that letter that the EPA had not made a decision on keeping or overturning the 2014 Obama ruling.
Harrington, the Pebble executive, wrote Huber at 3:33 a.m. July 3 about the Alaska Public Media report, saying Trump’s pledge to Dunleavy to intervene had apparently not filtered down to the federal work force, including Leopold, the attorney, and Hladick, the administrator in Seattle.
“Another article to get the blood boiling,” Harrington wrote to the governor’s office about the Alaska Public Media report, “and another reason to get in touch with Leopold or Hladick ASAP on the veto. That letter to the Corps from EPA/Hladick totally contradicts everything the governor was promised last week by the president.”
“It’s scary because Hladick holds the responsibility and is now the decision maker on the withdrawal,” Harrington said.
So Pebble knew what the governor was promised. What Pebble did not know was that Hladick was no longer the “decision maker” and that EPA had already decided to overturn the Obama decision, following orders from the top.
CNN reported Aug. 9 that the June 27 staff meeting, a day after the Trump-Dunleavy session, was organized by EPA lawyer Leopold.
“During that video conference, EPA General Counsel Matthew Leopold said that a decision had been made to lift the restriction on the Pebble Mine proposal and that no further consideration of the matter was needed, sources said,” CNN reported.
“I was dumbfounded,” an EPA official told the network. “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 formal announcement of EPA’s reversal on the Obama veto came July 30.
On that day Pebble released the press release it had prepared more than a month earlier, praising Dunleavy: “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,” Pebble CEO Tom Collier said.