Ad thanking Begich on Pebble filmed last fall
The Jan. 20 announcement that Sen. Mark Begich opposes the Pebble mine wasn’t news to everyone.
On Jan. 21, Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association began running an ad on television and online that features Kodiak fishermen Mike Friccero thanking Begich for opposing the mine.
“Sen. Begich stood with Alaskans and opposed this mine,” Friccero says.
The clip of Friccero thanking Begich for opposing Pebble was filmed last fall, months before the EPA released its final watershed risk assessment or Begich announced his stance.
Oct. 28, Bristol Bay United — a coalition led by Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, Trout Unlimited and Bristol Bay Native Corp. — released an ad opposing the mine that also included Friccero and appears to have been filmed the same day he cut his lines thanking Begich although the groups involved declined to say when the footage was shot.
Friccero also declined to comment on the filming or his statements in the ad.
Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association Executive Director Bob Waldrop wrote in an email that the group expected Begich to oppose the project.
“Sen. Begich has always said his position on Pebble would be determined by the science, and so we anticipated he would oppose it because the science clearly shows that mines like the Pebble mine would devastate Bristol Bay and Alaskan fishing jobs,” Waldrop wrote. “As Sen. Begich and Sen. Ted Stevens have both said, the Pebble mine is the wrong mine in the wrong place.”
BBRSDA is a 501(c)6 nonprofit association funded by a self-imposed tax on drift fishermen in the region.
Although Begich’s Senate office released his Jan. 20 statement opposing Pebble, questions about the ads and the timing were referred to his campaign.
Campaign staff said he did not make up his mind until after the Environmental Protection Agency released its final report Jan. 15.
“Sen. Begich has always said he would base his decision on science — not politics — and that is what he did,” wrote Alaskans for Begich Campaign Manager Susanne Fleek-Green in an emailed statement. “Begich arrived at a decision following careful review of the January report. He has heard from both sides of the issue, thousands of Alaskans, and after looking at the science he decided we couldn’t risk the fishing jobs and revenues from Bristol Bay.”
Campaign staff said that he told Pebble mine supporters and opponents on the same day that he had reviewed the EPA report and couldn’t support the project. In the fall, he met with supporters and opponents of the project, telling them no decision had been made.
Waldrop did not respond to a question about whether or not other possible positions were filmed — such as thanks to other members of the Alaska delegation for opposing the project — when the Begich clip was filmed.
Trout Unlimited did not respond to questions about the timing of filming the clips or the process for using the same clips in the two different ads.
A spokeswoman for Bristol Bay Native Corp., listed as a contact on a press release thanking Begich for opposing the mine, wrote that she did not know how the commercials were made or what collaboration was involved.
A spokesman for the Pebble Partnership, however, said his company is disappointed that Begich is not supporting further review of the project.
“We obviously find the timing of the ad, airing two short days after the senator made his announcement, and the use of someone being filmed about the senator’s position last fall a little curious,” wrote Pebble spokesman Mike Heatwole in an email. “Sen. Begich initially said he supported due process for our project and we are disappointed he has turned his back on due process and against thousands of new jobs and potentially billions in economic activity for Alaska.
“There is no environmental harm whatsoever that will be caused by allowing a fair, science-based, and objective permitting process to proceed and it’s too bad Sen. Begich does not support that.”
Heatwole noted Pebble has spent $150 million on environmental studies and does not agree with the EPA’s assessment: “The EPA spent very little time, a fraction of the money, and conducted no new science as part of their flawed report. The EPA’s document is not conclusive science but rather a political report intended to harm our project’s ability to apply for permits and receive an objective review under the environmental laws of our state and nation.”