“When I took office, my top priority was to grow Alaska’s economy by letting the world know that Alaska was open for business and to encourage companies across the globe to invest in our state. The number one way to accomplish this goal is to let potential investors know that we have regulatory and permitting stability in Alaska. The USACE (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) has taken a very positive and accountable step in announcing a schedule for the Pebble Project and has, thus far, met every deadline. I commend you and your staff for achieving this.”
Question: Is that the voice of Gov. Mike Dunleavy? Or is it the voice of Shalon Harrington, the chief of staff of the Pebble Partnership?
Answer: Harrington. She provided the statement as part of a 700-word letter, written in Dunleavy’s voice, that went to the Army Corps of Engineers on behalf of all Alaskans. It was signed by Dunleavy and sent on state letterhead.
The Pebble/Dunleavy letter raised objections to what should have been a noncontroversial plan to extend the comment period on the Pebble project by 30 days. The mine proponents provided nearly every sentence.
All but about 25 words came directly from the text submitted by Pebble to Dunleavy’s office, according to a comparison of the full text of each document included in a CNN investigative story on the links between Dunleavy and Pebble.
The thrust of the story, backed up by numerous documents, is that there is no clear dividing line between the views of the Pebble Partnership and Dunleavy.
Dunleavy likes to say he supports the Pebble process, not necessarily the mine. That would come as a big surprise to the mine proponents, who see him as the tallest member of the Pebble team.
In an email in July included in the CNN report, Harrington wrote to Dunleavy adviser Brett Huber that Tom Collier, Pebble’s CEO, wanted to pass along some talking points to Dunleavy, starting with, “Alaska is open for business. The governor has been a vocal supporter of Pebble for years.”
Harrington wrote that Huber knew the talking points on Pebble and she had seen him deliver them before. “You’re a rockstar,” she wrote.
It is absurd for the Dunleavy administration to claim it is normal to have ghost-written letters and the exchange of inside information promoting the project, encouraging investment in the project and secretly plotting strategy to get the project approved and then to allege this is just supporting the “process.”
In the Anchorage Daily News, Dunleavy was quoted as saying he didn’t “necessarily agree” that this letter and others had been copied verbatim. It is 96 percent verbatim.
In comments to KTUU, Dunleavy repeated the ruse that he isn’t supporting Pebble, just the process. This dodge is a holdover from his campaign when he claimed he didn’t know enough to have an opinion.
But the background of the ghost-written letter shows the hand-in-glove relationship of Dunleavy and Pebble. He is hardly an impartial observer, interested in watching the process.
On April 24, Sen. Lisa Murkowski sent a letter to the Army Corps of Engineers calling for the extension of the comment period by 30 days on the draft environmental impact statement for the Pebble Mine.
She said it was important, “given the length and complexity of the DEIS and the need to ensure that the thousands of Alaskans who have followed this project closely can provide meaningful feedback on it.”
It was an entirely reasonable request, one that any governor of Alaska should have endorsed to improve the process.
But the Pebble Partnership was unhappy. The mine promoters called upon their friend in the governor’s office to take up the issue and oppose Murkowski’s request to extend the public comment period by 30 days.
He submitted the ghost-written letter of opposition to Col. Philip Borders of the Army Corps of Engineers two days after Murkowski’s missive.
The 4 percent difference between the Pebble version of the letter and that signed by Dunleavy mainly shows that his office at least had the sense to remove two direct Pebble complaints about Murkowski’s idea.
But Dunleavy left in the ridiculous statement that it made no sense to take public comments in June because Alaskans are too busy in June with other things.
The Pebble mine put these words in his mouth about the 30-day idea and he repeated them: “Arbitrarily extending the public comment period sends a direct and negative message to the global investment community that the regulatory process in Alaska is not accountable. I urge you to resist requests that will not add value to the public processes you have undertaken.”
Extending the public comment period by 30 days, which happened, did none of the horrible things that Pebble/Dunleavy claimed.
The real negative message here stems from the contradiction between what Dunleavy says in public about Pebble and what he is doing in private.
Dermot Cole can be reached at email@example.com