Jason Brune, commissioner of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation and a member of the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. board of trustees, is seen during a special meeting on Monday, Oct. 3, 2022, in Juneau. (Photo by James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)

Jason Brune, commissioner of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation and a member of the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. board of trustees, is seen during a special meeting on Monday, Oct. 3, 2022, in Juneau. (Photo by James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)

Alaska’s top environmental regulator will resign after almost five years as commissioner

Jason Brune is one of Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s last remaining original cabinet picks

Jason Brune, commissioner of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation and third in the line of succession to be governor, is leaving his job with the state.

“I had said I would do this job for four years, give my public service, and ended up staying for five,” Brune said Wednesday.

In a prepared written statement announcing Brune’s resignation, Dunleavy said he was sorry to see Brune go, but “respect his decision with the knowledge that his outstanding leadership at a new venue will continue to move Alaska forward.”

Brune’s last day as commissioner will be Aug. 20, the governor’s office said, and he will be replaced on an acting basis by Deputy Commissioner Emma Pokon.

Brune said he intends to use about three months of terminal leave after that date and will start looking for a new job at that point.

His background is in resource development, but finding a new job could be difficult, he noted: There’s a one-year legal prohibition against lobbying after leaving state service and a two-year bar against working on any issue that he had contact with as commissioner.

He announced his resignation to DEC employees during a regularly scheduled all-staff meeting on Wednesday.

A permanent replacement, subject to legislative confirmation, will be named later this year, the governor’s office said.

It was not immediately clear whether the governor will pick a new third-in-line; while the state’s line of succession has traditionally included cabinet members, state law does not require the No. 3 to be an elected official.

“I still have a fantastic relationship with the governor and told him I’m going to support his efforts in whatever way I can,” Brune said. “If there’s boards, commissions or things that he wants me to serve on, definitely.”

Brune was one of Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s last original cabinet appointees. He’s served as a member of the administration since shortly after Dunleavy’s 2018 election.

His departure leaves only Fish and Game Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang as a holdover; Adam Crum and Nancy Dahlstrom, also original cabinet appointees, are now in new positions, Crum as head of the Department of Revenue and Dahlstrom as lieutenant governor.

Before becoming head of the DEC, Alaska’s environmental regulator, Brune was a well-known figure in the development industry, having worked 11 years as the head of the industry group the Resource Development Council of Alaska and three as director of public affairs and government relations for Anglo American, at a time when that mining conglomerate was pursuing development of Pebble Mine.

As commissioner, Brune was tasked with balancing environmental concerns with the administration’s desire to grow the mining, drilling and logging industries.

He said on Wednesday that during his time at DEC, he tried to change the agency’s ethic “to be one of collaboration in protecting human health and the environment, and working with, not against the regulated community.”

He said he’s also proud of efforts to reduce staff turnover at DEC, saying that turnover declined from 25%-30% to something like half that figure. Long-term workers create better results, he said.

In recent years, Brune’s attempts to have the state take over federal wetlands permitting, a program known as 404, were frustrated by legislative reluctance, but lawmakers did approve plans to take over other permitting programs from the federal government.

Brune served as a Dunleavy designee on the board of trustees for the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp., voting to discontinue the corporation’s in-state investment program after expressing worries that it could politicize the fund.

He also served on the Alaska Gasline Corp. board of directors.

The Brune-led DEC frequently found itself at odds with the federal Environmental Protection Agency on issues as varied as wood stoves and the ownership of riverbeds.

In a formal letter earlier this year, Brune characterized the state’s relationship to the EPA as “the sub to the EPA’s dom.”

The state should be the first line of environmental defense, Brune said, “and that’s why we pushed so hard on the EPA. They didn’t like it. They still don’t like it.”

• James Brooks is a longtime Alaska reporter, having previously worked at the Anchorage Daily News, Juneau Empire, Kodiak Mirror and Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. This article originally appeared online at alaskabeacon.com. Alaska Beacon, an affiliate of States Newsroom, is an independent, nonpartisan news organization focused on connecting Alaskans to their state government.

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