An Outdoor View: A perfect storm

  • By Les Palmer
  • Thursday, March 2, 2017 3:59pm
  • Opinion

When the stars are lined up just so, when all the ducks are in a row, and when all the balls drop in the right holes of the pinball machine at the right time, unusual events can occur. Is now such a time?

There may never be a better time for opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling, for approving the permits for strip-mining coal along the Chuitna River, and for approval of the largest open-pit mining operation on Earth, the Pebble project.

The stage is set for a perfect storm. A Republican who wears a hat that says “Make America Great Again” occupies the White House. Republican majorities dominate Congress, and all three of Alaska’s Congressional members are Republicans. Alaska’s Governor is a former Republican, and Alaska’s House and Senate have Republican majorities. Alaska and the nation are in dire fiscal condition, and desperate for something — anything — to provide relief.

I fear for the environment. We Alaskans appreciate having clean air and water. Residents and visitors alike seem to enjoy the wildness of our state, the wide-open, undeveloped spaces. Many of us live here mainly for the excellent fishing and hunting. Trouble is, when people will do anything for jobs and profits, our air, water and the very reasons we live here become at risk.

This President worries me. The same morning in January that Trump signed the go-ahead for the controversial Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines, he sat down with the three top U.S. automobile manufacturers and said, “I am, to a large extent, an environmentalist. I believe in it. But, it’s out of control.”

On the rare occasion that Trump mentions clean air and water, in the next breath he threatens to take away the agencies that enforce the laws that prevent our air and water from being polluted. He has promised to gut the Environmental Protection Agency.

I find myself missing President Eisenhower. “Ike,” who was presidential from the get-go, would’ve thought Tweeting was for the birds. In his 1961 farewell speech, famous for its mention of the military-industrial complex, he warned, “As we peer into society’s future, we — you and I, and our government — must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering, for our own ease and convenience, the precious resources of tomorrow.” Eisenhower, a Republican, set aside ANWR as a federal protected area.

Don Young, Alaska’s sole Representative in the U.S. House, is eager to plunder whatever can be found in ANWR. In 2011, at a House Natural Resource Committee hearing regarding opening the refuge to drilling, Young said, “The reality is, this area should be drilled. I’ve been fighting this battle for 39 years. It was set aside for drilling.”

One of Young’s famous quotes sums up his attitude toward the environment: “If you can’t eat it, can’t sleep under it, can’t wear it or make something from it, it’s not worth anything.”

Alaska’s only two Senators, Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski, are both unabashedly “pro” when it comes to resource development.

In Republican Governor Bill Walker’s 2017 State of the State address in January, he said he would advocate tirelessly to bring the opportunity to drill in ANWR to reality, and that he had already reached out to the incoming President on the issue.

At least Governor Walker talks the environmental talk. In his State of the State address in January, his “vision for Alaska” included “An Alaska where we set the standard for environmental stewardship and responsible resource development; … .” We’ll have to wait and see if he walks the environmental walk.

Republicans in the Alaska Legislature even now are batting around the final wording in a resolution to ask Congress to open ANWR to drilling. Even the Democrat legislators will vote for this one.

Will this rare and unholy congruence of pro-development Republicans end years of delaying the development of ANWR, and will the Pebble Mine and Chuitna River project soon follow?

Opportunities to plunder resources with a minimum of governmental interference don’t happen often, but they’re happening now.

Les Palmer can be reached at les.palmer@rocketmail.com.

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