Dunleavy appointee to lead state environmental agency hits back at critics

Jason Brune in Feb. 2018 advocating for offshore oil development. Gov. Mike Dunleavy has appointed Brune to lead the state Department of Environmental Conservation. (Photo by Elizabeth Harball/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s appointee to lead the state Department of Environmental Conservation is speaking out against the opposition he has faced during his confirmation process.

Jason Brune’s appointment is controversial because he worked as the public affairs and government relations manager for mining company Anglo American when it backed the proposed Pebble Mine.

In a Thursday speech in Anchorage to the Resource Development Council, an industry group, Brune said he has so far enjoyed working in state government.

“Yeah, we have some issues, but it has just been such a great opportunity,” Brune said. “Now as for the confirmation process, well, I don’t know if I would wish that on anyone.”

Anti-Pebble groups have organized opposition to Brune’s appointment, and many Alaskans testified against him at recent confirmation hearings.

“Putting Brune at the helm here in Alaska will make it impossible for Alaskans to trust that fair, science based and honest decisions will be made in permitting for Pebble,” Lindsey Bloom of Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay said in a statement following a House Resources confirmation hearing on Friday.

In his speech, Brune did not state his position on the Pebble Mine, but he did argue his opponents are wrong.

“To me, it says that they’re scared,” Brune said. “They know that I care for the environment. They know I care for our economy. They know that I care for our future. And they are worried we are going to make Alaska open for business again. Well, I am up to the task.”

Brune said one of his big priorities will be cutting back on regulations he views as unnecessary. To an audience of mining, oil and other resource industry supporters, Brune asked for feedback on how to accomplish that goal.

“Look through the regs that oversee your businesses. If there are things that you see in there that are overly onerous, that are unnecessary, that aren’t protecting our environment, come and tell me…tell our team,” Brune said. “We don’t know everything that you do. We need to make sure we hear from you, what we can do to help make Alaska open for business.”

The House Resources Committee will hold another hearing on Brune’s appointment Monday evening at 6:30 pm.

Previous articleThree decades after Exxon Valdez oil disaster, Prince William watchdog group remains on alert
Next articleChina, Russia find common cause in Arctic
Elizabeth Harball is a reporter with Alaska's Energy Desk, covering Alaska’s oil and gas industry and environmental policy. She is a contributor to the Energy Desk’s Midnight Oil podcast series. Before moving to Alaska in 2016, Harball worked at E&E News in Washington, D.C., where she covered federal and state climate change policy. Originally from Kalispell, Montana, Harball is a graduate of Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.