Alaska Republican U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan cemented his opposition to the Pebble mine on Thursday after secret recordings were released of the project’s now-former CEO and another executive describing their relationship with Sullivan and other Alaska politicians.
“Given the lies of Pebble’s leadership, the record needs to be set straight,” Sullivan said in a three-part Twitter post on Thursday afternoon.
The recordings were quickly used by Sullivan’s Senate challenger, Al Gross, in an ad accusing Sullivan of hiding his support for the mine from the public. Gross called for Sullivan to return campaign contributions from Pebble executives.
The series of Twitter posts by Sullivan included the long version of Sullivan’s views on Pebble, returning to his late August statement when he said a federal permit cannot be issued for the mine.
It also included the new, abridged version.
“Let me be even more clear: I oppose Pebble Mine. No Pebble Mine," he said.
The statement on Thursday is Sullivan’s clearest statement yet opposing the mine.
Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski expressed her support for Sullivan’s position on Thursday in her own tweet with a triple-heart emoji and a GIF of jumping salmon.
Both senators have been steadfast supporters of resource development in Alaska, including in 2017 helping set the stage for opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling.
But the proposed copper and gold mine near the headwaters of the valuable Bristol Bay salmon fishery has been the target of intense criticism both in Alaska and Outside. Opponents fear it will destroy the fishery.
The secretly recorded video meetings with the Pebble executives, using people posing as potential investors in the mine, were released Monday by an environmental group.
The group, the Environmental Investigation Agency, released footage of former Pebble chief executive Tom Collier describing Murkowski and Sullivan as merely making political points when they said the Corps can’t permit the mine.
The senators strongly denied those and other statements in the videos, which also included Ron Thiessen, head of Pebble parent company Northern Dynasty Minerals, discussing Pebble’s connections with the senators and Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy, who has also broadly rejected the statements in the video as false.
Collier resigned from Pebble on Wednesday.
Collier’s statements about Sullivan in the leaked tapes quickly became fodder for campaign attack ads.
On Wednesday, Sullivan’s opponent, Democratic-nominated independent Al Gross, released an ad centered around Collier implying he had Sullivan under control.
“Right now, he’s off in a corner being quiet,” Collier said in the videos and the ad. “I think that’s our plan to work with him; is leave him alone and let him be quiet.”
On Thursday morning, the Gross campaign sent out an email calling on Sullivan to return the campaign donations he’s received from Pebble executives.
A search of Federal Election Commission records shows Sullivan receiving more than $10,000 from Pebble executives and employees since 2017. Records show Gross has not received campaign donations from Pebble executives.
Gross also took to Twitter on Thursday to criticize Sullivan.
“That’s who Dan Sullivan is,” Gross said in a video he tweeted. “He hides in the corner to avoid showing people what he really stands for.”
Matt Shuckerow, Sullivan’s campaign manager, said he had not seen Gross' tweet, but that overall, Gross' campaign material has been misleading and dishonest.
Shuckerow did not directly address the Gross campaign’s request to return the donations.
Shuckerow said Sullivan and Gross will have a chance to hash out this and other fisheries-related issues at an Oct. 10 debate in Kodiak.
“I’m sure this issue will come up, and I am sure Alaskans will look forward to hearing that discussion between the two candidates at that time,” Shuckerow said.
The U.S. Army, the Corps' parent agency, had said that day that the project cannot be permitted “as currently proposed."
Pebble is still trying to win approval for the project by developing a compensatory mitigation plan designed to make up for the damage the mine will cause in the region. But the Corps has set a steep hurdle for the mitigation plan.
President Donald Trump also weighed in last week, saying on Twitter there will be “NO POLITICS” in the final decision the Corps issues.
Dunleavy’s spokesman, Jeff Turner, said Thursday that recent events surrounding Pebble have not affected the governor’s stance on the mine.
He said no plan of development has been submitted to the state.
When one is, it will be reviewed fairly, Turner said.
“What he’s said and continues to say is he’s not necessarily taking a position on the mine,” Turner said of Dunleavy’s position.
Republican Rep. Don Young’s campaign manager, Truman Reed, said the Pebble issues publicly aired this week have not changed the congressman’s stance on the project. Young is also running for reelection this year against Democratic-nominated independent Alyse Galvin.
In August, Young said in a statement he was concerned because the project is on state land and he believes Alaska should have the right to manage its own lands.
“From day one, this project has been subject to the political whims, decisions, and opinions of federal agencies and bureaucrats who disagree with how we Alaskans choose to live and work,” he said. “... If we allow this to continue, then the federal government has a moral and economic obligation to compensate our state for stifling Alaska’s job growth potential.”
In a candidate survey for the Daily News, submitted on Monday, Young said Pebble should work with neighboring communities to best implement the project.
“Decisions based on reason and sound science should win over emotion and environmental extremism every time,” Young said in the survey response. “Pebble Partnership needs to use science-based analysis and recommendations while also following the process outlined by law. If the process is allowed to move forward and the science indicates it can proceed with minimal impact on the environment, then it should move forward.”
Galvin, in the same Daily News survey, said she was opposed to the mine.
“I support mining and natural resource development in Alaska, especially in regions where unemployment plagues the community. However, I am opposed to the Pebble Mine project. It is the wrong mine in the wrong location.”