Dylan Brown, E&E News reporter

Published: Wednesday, January 30, 2019

The company behind the Pebble mine outspent its critics last year on K Street as the mining sector overall doled out more lobbying cash for a second straight year.

In the last quarter of 2018, Pebble LP registered one of the 10 largest lobbying contracts on Capitol Hill. The mining company paid $410,000 to Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP.

Over the course of 2018, the nation's top lobbying firm received a total of $740,000 from Pebble for eight lobbyists.

That was actually $10,000 less than the year before, but since signing the contract in August 2015, Pebble has paid Akin Gump $2.4 million to help ferry its major gold, copper and molybdenum mine proposal through the federal permitting process.

The Army Corps of Engineers is slated to release a draft environmental impact statement soon, but the Trump administration has not eliminated proposed EPA restrictions that limit the mine's scope in order to protect salmon in the Bristol Bay region.

With uncertainty still hanging over the project, Pebble spent at least $1.21 million total last year on lobbying contracts and the services of in-house lobbyists and Senior Vice President Peter Robertson, a former EPA staffer.

Pebble also hired Squire Patton Boggs, the nation's fourth-largest lobbying firm, in February 2018. The company spent $380,000 last year for a team of lobbyists, which has added late Sen. John McCain's (R-Ariz.) former chief of staff Pablo Carrillo since registering (Greenwire, Feb. 28, 2018).

Former California Republican Rep. Richard Pombo's lobbying shop, Gavel Resources LLC, got $90,000 from Pebble last year, while the company terminated its contract with Van Ness Feldman LLP after spending less than $20,000 in 2018.

Critics

The groups fighting the Pebble mine also spent on lobbyists, though far less.

Western-focused lobby shop Strategies 360 received $80,000 from the Bristol Bay Native Corp. (BBNC). Lobbyists Tylynn Gordon, Matt Gall and Phil Hardy have worked on behalf of the Alaska Native group since April 2017.

BBNC also employed the services of Birch Horton Bittner & Cherot last year, but the firm worked on federal procurement programs, not the Pebble mine. The long-running lobbying contract was also terminated in last year's first quarter.

The Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp. also paid for lobbying work unrelated to the mine. Last year, the group spent $102,000 for Adams and Reese LLP to work on maritime issues and less than $20,000 for KPMG LLP to examine tax issues.

The Pebble mine, however, did make the list of lobbying issues for the New Venture Fund.

The Washington, D.C.-based liberal nonprofit sparked controversy last year as a key donor for the Stand for Salmon initiative in Alaska (Energywire, Oct. 26, 2018). The ballot measure, which would have tightened regulations for anadromous fish impacts, failed, but campaign Director Ryan Schryver got his paychecks from the New Venture Fund.

At the same time last year on Capitol Hill, the nonprofit hired Natural Resource Results LLC. The New Venture Fund spent $90,000 on lobbying to "support robust transparent review of Pebble Mine permit application," according to lobbying disclosure.

Its lobbyists assigned were George W. Bush administration staffers David Anderson and Mitch Butler, along with Sara Tucker, a former Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee staffer.

The same three worked on Bristol Bay as one of many issues for Trout Unlimited. The anglers' group paid Natural Resource Results $80,000 in 2018.

The contract was part of $375,000 Trout Unlimited paid for lobbying in 2018, including work done in-house by Steve Moyer, senior vice president for government affairs, on a slate of topics, including Bristol Bay.

The Pacific Seafood Processors Association paid its in-house lobbyist Kristine Lynch between $30,000 and $35,000 to work on Bristol Bay issues as the canners' lobbying disclosure cited "fish habitat impacted by proposed Pebble Mine."

The League of Conservation Voters and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) also listed the Pebble mine or Bristol Bay as a lobbying focus.

The Alaska Conservation Foundation did not continue lobbying on the issue last year, but the National Taxpayers Union did, listing it as an issue in-house lobbyist Pete Sepp was monitoring.

Mining sector

Despite having only one asset, Pebble LP ranked fourth on the list of top lobbying spenders in the mining industry.

Overall, the sector doled out $17.8 million to K Street, up from $14.9 million in 2017 and a second consecutive annual increase, according to the Center for Responsive Politics (E&E Daily, Jan. 26).

The company atop the list was Peabody Energy Corp. The nation's biggest coal producer spent $1.65 million on lobbying in 2018, compared with $1.5 million the previous year.

After leading mining spending last year, the National Mining Association finished second as its lobbying payments dropped from $1.9 million to $1.6 million last year.

International titan Rio Tinto PLC overtook gold giant Newmont Mining Corp. to take third place overall and the top hardrock mining company slot.

Rio spent $1.3 million on lobbying last year, up from $950,000. Newmont paid $1.1 million, up from $988,000.

The sixth, seventh and eighth largest mining lobbying expenditures were $670,000 by Canadian company Barrick Gold Corp., $620,000 by Arch Coal Inc. and $530,000 by coal firm Contura Energy Inc.

Twin Metals Minnesota LLC, a subsidiary of Chilean copper king Antofagasta PLC, spent $440,000 on lobbying as its project remains ensnared in the federal courts and permitting process (Greenwire, Jan. 23).

Rounding out the top 10 was Tahoe Resources Inc. The Canadian company paid $430,000 for lobbyists to defend its business operations in Guatemala, for which President Trump has threatened to cut off aid.

Clarification: This story was updated to clarify lobbying spending for Peabody Energy Corp. and the Pebble project because of discrepancies between lobbying disclosures and data from the Center for Responsive Politics.

Twitter: @DylanBrown26 Email: dbrown@eenews.net