Beneath the EPA push to stop Pebble Mine

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There's little doubt the Environmental Protection Agency is sabotaging Alaska's Pebble Mine -- not to save Bristol Bay salmon but to procure Big Green's support for the re-election of President Obama.

The whisper among Beltway Machiavellians goes that Big Green's noisy anti-Pebble flackery is just the tip of the iceberg. If that's true, what's the bottom of the iceberg? It isn't pretty.

The EPA is considering the pre-emptive use of a provision of the Clean Water Act's Section 404(c) to forbid the deposit of mining fill material on the Pebble site, which would neatly block the entire multibillion-dollar operation. That gives the EPA an end run around the legal permit process, which would at least give the developers the right to defend themselves.

"Follow the money" is good advice for investigating the bottom of the Big Green iceberg. Where does the money start? Nowadays it's not just club membership dues or nature magazine subscriptions, it's wealthy foundations.

These are not the traditional philanthropies that fund medical research or benevolent service organizations, but the later breed of "Golden Donors," institutionalized private fortunes driven by the personal ideologies and power urges of the original rich donor or later administrators.

Most foundations that fund anti-Pebble green groups are members of the Environmental Grantmakers Association, a New York City-based gathering that enables its member foundations to share experience, evaluate potential grantees, coordinate their giving and prescribe action on multiple fronts.

For example, the Foundation Center database shows the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation (2010 assets $5.2 billion) spread $3.5 million between the Nature Conservancy, Alaska Conservation Foundation, Renewable Resources Coalition and Earthworks for anti-Pebble programs. Moore's 2008 Internal Revenue Service Form 990 shows the fund gave $1.1 million to the ACF for "Pebble mine campaign coordination."

Moore gave a single group, Trout Unlimited, $2.3 million for Alaska programs. TU also got $150,000 from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation with the blatant instruction to spend the money "For prevention of development of Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay."

That's only seed money. In large part, grants are spent hiring high-powered public relations firms to devise fundraising campaigns. It's not free money. Today's foundations demand a return on their investment. Recipients must show foundation managers results both in upsetting the public and in self-sufficiency -- in part so they won't come begging forever. The help of PR firms is essential.

According to a 2011 congressional lobbying report, Trout Unlimited hired the Seattle-based PR firm Strategies 360 -- run by lobbyist and high-profile CEO Ron Dotzauer -- to stop Pebble Mine with a sophisticated fundraising campaign. It included lobbying and advertising, of course, but Dotzauer also put on a series of restaurant events with chefs touting salmon and cursing Pebble Mine. They could save these delicious, non-endangered fish by giving Trout Unlimited big bucks.

Dotzauer has political connections, too. He served as campaign manager for Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., according to the Seattle Times, "in all of her races since the mid-1980s." Cantwell had once been his employee, his girlfriend and his creditor -- she lent him money to help with the costs of his divorce.

In September of last year, Cantwell sent a letter urging EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to use that Clean Water Act gimmick to stop Pebble Mine.

Examiner Columnist Ron Arnold is executive vice president of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise.

This piece has been modified. An earlier version implied, incorrectly, that EPA had already blocked Pebble Mine. 

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Ron Arnold

The Washington Examiner