Alaska’s Governor Dunleavy: A Puppet for the Pebble Mine

Documents obtained by CNN, reviewed by NRDC, portray Alaska’s Governor as mouthpiece for foreign mining company seeking to advance reckless Bristol Bay mining project long opposed by Alaskans.
CNN Report. December 20, 2019

Marc Fienberg

Documents obtained by CNN, reviewed by NRDC, portray Alaska’s Governor as mouthpiece for foreign mining company seeking to advance reckless Bristol Bay mining project long opposed by Alaskans.

Last month, based on numerous documents, an extensive CNN report revealed that Alaska’s Governor Mike Dunleavy has been willingly acting as a conduit for messaging in support of the Pebble Mine—messaging supplied directly to the Governor’s staff by the Pebble Partnership (aka the Canadian mining company Northern Dynasty Minerals) (“Pebble”). Instead of representing his constituents as the Governor of an independent permitting state, CNN reports, Dunleavy has in effect become a puppet for Pebble, repeatedly playing the role of a lobbyist on call—not just once or twice but consistently, through a course of conduct beginning even before he became Governor.…

According to the documents, which NRDC reviewed at the request of CNN, the Governor has been working hand in glove with the company to promote one of the most embattled projects in Alaska and most widely condemned projects anywhere—against the overwhelming opposition of the people of Bristol Bay. For over a decade, the region’s tribes, communities, and fishing industries (commercial, sport, and subsistence) have justifiably feared the unavoidable risk that Pebble poses to the natural resources, economy, and culture of Bristol Bay, including its fishery, the most productive wild sockeye salmon fishery on Earth.

In allowing Pebble’s staff to draft letters, write talking points, schedule him for meetings on the company’s behalf, provide assurances to potential investors, and even enlist his personal assistance to advocate with President Trump and Vice President Pence for White House political intervention—by acquiescing to all of this, Governor Dunleavy has in effect become a shill for the Pebble Partnership and its Canadian owner Northern Dynasty Minerals.

According to an email from Pebble CEO Tom Collier in July to the Governor’s staff, "[y]ou and the Gov could not possibly have been more supportive of our project.”

Dermot Cole blog post, December 21, 2019

Dermot Cole

Contrary to the Governor’s claimed commitment to a permit process that is objective, transparent, and focused on science, the CNN report and the documents on which it is based detail a shocking portrayal of the chief executive of the state not as a principled leader but as a virtual stooge for a foreign company, acting at the company’s behest to advance the Pebble Mine based on politics, not science. By his complicity with Pebble, he has elevated the self-interest of that private company over the interests of the people of Alaska he was elected to represent.

Although CNN has thus far refused to release all of the documents for public review, its December 20, 2019 televised report contained images of many of them. Using screenshots, long-time Alaska reporter, columnist, and author Dermot Cole has analyzed in detail what those documents reveal:

  • in a blog posted on December 21, 2019, Cole describes ghost-written letters and talking points showing how Governor Dunleavy has been working “hand-in-glove” with Pebble;
  • in a blog posted on December 22, 2019, Cole focuses on Dunleavy’s compliance with Pebble’s request to reassure and lobby a potential mine investor; and
  • in a blog posted this week on January 6, 2020, Colee outlines the successful efforts by Pebble to enlist Dunleavy’s help in securing a promise from President Trump to assist the Pebble project—a promise shared by the Governor with Pebble but not with the people of Alaska.

And how have the Governor and Pebble responded? “It is common practice . . .,” said the Governor’s office. “It’s fairly normal . . .,” said Pebble’s CEO Collier. 

But what Dunleavy and Collier fail to acknowledge is that Pebble’s success in co-opting this Governor goes far beyond run of the mill lobbying. Essentially, Dunleavy has allowed himself and his office to serve as a Pebble annex—a lobbying arm of the very company that ultimately will be asking the state of Alaska for a permit to build and operate the Pebble Mine.

All of this matters most fundamentally because the Bristol Bay wild salmon fishery is the economic and cultural lifeblood of the Bristol Bay region—a unique source of billions of dollars in annual revenue and thousands of jobs for the people of Alaska. In allowing that world-class resource and the people it sustains to be put at risk for the benefit of a private Canadian company and its shareholders, Dunleavy has not only degraded his office but become a national embarrassment to the great state of Alaska.