Public skeptical of commissioner’s Pebble past

Jason Brune formerly worked on Pebble Project, has expressed pro-Pebble views recently

During a public hearing for the governor’s pick for Department of Environmental Conservation commissioner, Juneau resident Carl Brodersen chose an unconventional way to bring up the issue of a conflict of interest.

“You wouldn’t put Willie Nelson in charge of regulating pot,” Brodersen said. “Sure, he has a lifetime of experience and first-hand knowledge but oh my lordy, would he be biased toward the subject of his work. In a way, that makes him simply unfit to do it.”

The Willie Nelson in his comparison was DEC Commissioner designee Jason Brune, and the conflict of interest in the comparison was Brune’s past with the Pebble Mine project. Brune formerly worked as a spokesperson for Anglo American, a company that sought to get the mining project up and running near Bristol Bay.

The project is currently on hold, but many environmentalists and people in the fishing industry are concerned that if the project were to go through, it would leach harmful materials into the bay.

[Opinion: Alaska can’t afford careless oversight of mines]

Dozens of people testified Friday afternoon to the House Resources Committee along with Brodersen, with the vast majority of them expressing similar concerns. The committee came back together that evening to take more comment, and Chair Rep. Geran Tarr, D-Anchorage, said they would likely have to have another confirmation hearing for more public comment and to provide time for the legislators to ask questions.

Brune worked for Anglo American as the public affairs and government relations manager from June 2011 to March 2014, according to his resume. For eight months after that, he was the president of Think Globally, Develop Locally LLC, where he was consulting for Pebble and other mining projects.

Though Brune no longer works on the Pebble project, he has gone on record in recent years in favor of it and has expressed that he believes it can be done responsibly. One of the testifiers Friday read a tweet of Brune’s from April 19, 2018 where Brune wrote that he has “no doubt (Pebble) can be developed safely and will coexist with the salmon fishery.”

When asked after Friday’s hearing if he still supports the Pebble Project, Brune didn’t tip his hand.

“In my role as DEC commissioner, I would not be supportive of Pebble. I would not be opposed to Pebble,” Brune said. “I would need to evaluate the project based on the permits that will be applied for. None have been applied for at the DEC level yet. No, I’m not currently a supporter or opponent of the project.”

Brune, who has sat through multiple confirmation hearings that have featured overwhelmingly negative comments about him, said it’s always tough to hear people who have never met him share such extreme criticisms of him. Many of the people who submitted letters in support of Brune or who spoke in support of him Friday are advocates for development. Their general sentiment was that commissioners are supposed to have a diverse background, and that Brune has worked for a number of organizations in a number of roles and has a well rounded knowledge of the issues facing the department.


• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at amccarthy@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.


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