Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation Jason Brune must recuse himself from reviewing a federal water quality permit for the proposed Pebble mine, given his history as a lobbyist for the project backers and pubic advocacy for the mine, the Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay said in an Aug. 17 letter to Gov. Mike Dunleavy.
“The Commissioner recently stated that due to his lack of financial involvement with the Pebble project he is the right person to make permitting decisions. We vehemently disagree,” fisherman and CFBB executive director Katherine Carscallen wrote.
Brune, formerly the Government Relations Manager in Alaska for former Pebble investor Anglo-American and executive director of the advocacy group Resource Development Council, must recuse himself from all Pebble mine related decision-making – or be removed from the process by Dunleavy, Carscallen says.
“Divesting financial interest in a project does not automatically equal impartiality. Commissioner Brune has not only been a spokesperson for the project in the context of his former position with Anglo American, but he has also personally been one of Pebble’s loudest cheerleaders on his social media accounts,” Carscallen wrote. “And now, with this critical decision upon us, the state expects us to believe that Commissioner Brune is the best person to determine whether the Pebble Project will comply with Alaska’s Water Quality Standards or pollute Bristol Bay rivers and the fishery. There will be no trust in the state’s decision with Commissioner Brune at the helm.”
The state department enforces water quality standards under the federal Clean Water Act and has veto power over one aspect of the U.S. Corps of Engineers permitting process for the mine, known as a 404 permit. With the late July release of its final environmental impact statement to authorize the mine, the Corps is in the midst of a 30-day review period when the state environmental agency must rule on another step in the Clean Water Act permitting, called a 401 “certificate of reasonable assurance.”
The danger of toxins leaking from future mine tailings is the biggest fear of Pebble opponents.
“There is no way that DEC can ‘reasonably assure’ us that Pebble will meet Alaska’s water quality standards,” said Robin Samuelson, a Bristol Bay fisherman in Dillingham, in a statement that CFBB released announcing its letter to the governor. “There is no mine on Earth of this size or type that has ever succeeded in not contaminating surrounding waters and no reason to believe that Pebble will be any different.”
“Just as EPA chief Andrew Wheeler has recused himself due to lobbying ties with Pebble, Mr. Brune owes it to Alaskans, the vast majority of whom are against Pebble, to recuse himself due to his clear conflict of interest and inability to objectively evaluate this project,” said Carscallen.
“Alaskans deserve a process we can trust and with Jason Brune at the helm of DEC we will never have that. Without his recusal Alaskans are being denied their right to a fair and science-based process that protects our interests and can be trusted,” said Meghan Gervais, a Bristol Bay fisherman from Homer.