At Monday's Republican Senate candidate forum, Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell asserted to Anchorage's business crowd that Sen. Mark Begich "invited" the Environmental Protection Agency to Alaska for its controversial study of the Bristol Bay watershed related to the proposed Pebble mine.
Flat out wrong, the Begich campaign said Tuesday. Begich didn't seek the federal study, his campaign said.
The EPA has said it launched the study of how a big mine would impact the Bristol Bay watershed after Alaska tribes and Native groups pushed it to veto the project outright, even before Pebble developers seek permits, as destructive to the rich salmon runs.
Anchorage lawyer Geoffrey Parker, who represented the tribes in their request to the EPA, also said Tuesday that Begich had nothing to do with the study's genesis.
The dustup over the EPA assessment is just the latest in what will be a long, acrimonious campaign for Senate. Treadwell and another GOP candidate, former Natural Resources Commissioner Dan Sullivan, have been blasting Begich, a Democrat seeking his second term, over things he did or didn't do while being mostly polite to each other.
Instead of the quick veto sought by tribes, EPA undertook a three-year long study. A final version released this month found that development of the Pebble gold and copper mine posed a significant risk for salmon.
Begich said that convinced him that the mine was wrong for Bristol Bay.
Republican leaders including Gov. Sean Parnell, Treadwell and Sullivan have criticized the EPA over the study, arguing the federal agency has no right to examine a proposed mine project on state land before there's even a mine development plan.
Treadwell told the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce that he thought Begich was behind the EPA review and threw out some figures to make his point.
"With about a million and a half dollar study that Mark Begich invited -- he said he didn't but I don't believe it -- the EPA was looking for a sponsor for a long period of time," Treadwell said Monday. "With about a million and a half dollars of research they said we can overcome close to $150 million worth of science on a half-trillion dollar project."
The EPA actually spent more, $2.4 million as of March 2013. It hadn't updated the figure as of earlier this month. Pebble Ltd. Partnership, the mine developer, says it has spent $150 million on environmental studies alone. (The EPA said it used Pebble's own research as part of its study.) Pebble hasn't published a number estimating the value of the resource, which would vary depending on commodity prices and how much of the minerals were extracted. But news reports have put the value of the gold, copper and molybdenum -- used to make stainless steel -- at $300 billion or higher.
Why did Treadwell say Begich invited the study? On Tuesday, the campaign appeared to be backing off a bit.
"Either the EPA didn't notify Sen. Begich about a major decision impacting Alaska, which is appalling, or his office had a heads up and did nothing," Treadwell campaign spokesman Fred Brown said Tuesday in an email.
Begich's campaign said the opposition should stick to what matters.
"Instead of launching false attacks and wading into a negative campaign, perhaps Mead Treadwell and his primary opponents, Dan Sullivan and Joe Miller, should spend their time telling Alaskans where they stand on key issues," Begich campaign manager Susanne Fleek-Green said Tuesday in an email.
Reach Lisa Demer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4390.