Alaska DEC has the power to veto Pebble Mine. Document suggests to mine foes DEC won’t use it.

Opponents of the Pebble mine project rallied in Anchorage in 2017. (Photo by Henry Leasia/Alaska Public Media)

The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation has an opportunity to veto the Pebble Mine. But a document obtained through a public records request suggests to mine opponents that DEC doesn’t intend to use it.

RELATED: Army Corps denies permit for Pebble Mine

The Alaska DEC has to certify that Pebble’s proposed mine meets state water quality standards or the mine can’t get its federal permit. It’s called 401 certification. Mine opponents filed a public records request of the state and found a meeting note from Aug. 4. Pebble representatives, officials from the Department of Natural Resources and DEC Commissioner Jason Brune were at the meeting. The note says:

401 certification needed from DEC. DEC is not going to notice or solicited public comment son 401 certification. DEC will follow their standard process of releasing the 401 cert with the ROD 

Translation: The state agency will release its certification at the same time as the Record of Decision from the Army Corps of Engineers. The so-called ROD is the ruling on whether the mine gets its permit to dredge and fill wetlands. 

It burns mine opponents that there’d be no opportunity to respond, and that they can’t even see another key document: Pebble’s mitigation plan, which it submitted to the Corps.

“They’re not making this a publicly available process,” said Lindsay Layland, deputy director of United Tribes of Bristol Bay. “They’re not sharing the information, the conversations that they’re having with other agencies with the public, which is pretty concerning, to say the least.”

Layland said the meeting notes make it sounds like it’s already a done deal: DEC will be “releasing the 401 cert with the ROD,” as it says in the meeting note.

RELATED: Alaska agency says it’s neutral on Pebble Mine. Internal documents tell a different story.

She and other Pebble opponents also say that DEC Commissioner Brune should not be involved in decisions about Pebble.

For a few years, Brune was a high-profile advocate for Pebble. He was a public and government affairs manager for Anglo American when that company was a partner in the proposed mine. That job ended in 2014, and Brune has no financial stake in the project.

Now, as head of  DEC, Brune said he’s letting the professional staff at DEC decide whether to issue a 401 certification for the mine. He said the decision hasn’t been made yet. 

“That process rests with the (DEC’s) Division of Water right now,” he said. “And if they issue a 401 cert, it can be appealed up to me. But that decision currently rests with the Division of Water.”

Brune said DEC has already held a public comment period on whether the state should certify that the mine meets Alaska’s water quality standards. That was this summer, running at the same time as the Army Corps’s comment period on Pebble’s environmental report. 

The Corps received more than 13,000 comments. Brune says DEC got 106.

As for the charge that this is already a done deal, Brune said an important word was left off the meeting notes: “If”

“So if there is a 401certification,” Brune said, “it will be issued with the ROD.”

Brune didn’t know when that might happen. Pebble’s parent company told investors this month it expects the Corps to issue its Record of Decision before President Trump leaves office, on Jan. 20. 

In the meantime, Alaska’s two U.S. Senators issued a new letter to Pebble’s parent company asking that it let Alaskans see the mitigation plan, so they can evaluate it.

Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Alaska Public Media. She reports from the U.S. Capitol and from Anchorage.

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