Most working Alaskans consider $500,000 to be a lot of money. And of course, it is. But not when you’re a giant multinational oil company.
British Petroleum recently dropped $500,000 to try to stop the Stand for Salmon ballot initiative, which would update Alaska’s 60-year-old, one-sentence-long salmon habitat protection law. To put that into context, however, it’s important to recognize BP reaped over $940 million in profits from its Alaska operations in 2017 alone.
So, $1/2 million to BP is no big deal. But when it comes to Alaska elections, it’s a tidal wave of Outside money. Of course, BP is not alone. A virtual who’s who of corporate special interests have now dropped over $2 million in their effort to stop Alaskans from protecting their wild salmon stocks, including cash contributions from Pebble ($200,000), ConocoPhillips ($250,000), Hecla Mining ($200,000), Kinross Mining ($200,000) and many others.
Aside from massive infusions of cash to undermine commonsense fish habitat updates, there’s a frothing frenzy of “sky-is-falling” rhetoric, with people like Ralph Samuels (Holland America) and Stephanie Madsen (At-Sea Processors Association) openly fretting the initiative will cripple everyday projects like dock construction.
Of course, nothing could be further than the truth. But there’s glaring irony when giant corporations pretend to be looking out for the “little guy.” Take Holland America for example. After Alaskans passed a citizens’ initiative in 2006 to clamp down on cruise ship pollution, Holland America lobbied hard to roll back the new law so it could dump more pollution in our coastal waters. And the At-Sea Processors are no better; their massive Pollock trawlers slaughter tens of thousands of Chinook salmon every year so McDonalds can sell fillet-o-fish sandwiches. So, it’s hard to swallow the panicky fear mongering from these giant corporations when their driving obligation is simply to maximize their profits and CEO compensation packages.
So, why are these giant corporations so scared? Because they like “business as usual,” and they know the current permitting system ALWAYS spits out permits for large oil, gas and mining projects. In an effort to address Alaska’s failing fish habitat protection, Representative Lois Stutes (R-Kodiak) introduced HB 199, which, if passed, would eliminate the need for the Stand for Salmon ballot initiative.
But all the big corporate interests, from the Resource Development Council on down, opposed revised salmon protections. More importantly, they openly conceded that the current system ALWAYS results in permits, regardless of the impacts to our salmon or the countless Alaskan families who rely on them. Lorali Simon with the Usibelli Coal Company put it bluntly when she admitted in public testimony that “[b]y definition, a permitting process is intended to permit an activity.”
So there you have it. The notion of “due process” for big corporations is that they get to develop wherever they want, whenever they want, and they have a corporate “right” to destroy salmon habitat.
Inletkeeper of course disagrees. Article VIII of the Alaska Constitution makes every Alaskan the owner of our fish and water resources. And while we have a right to responsibly use and enjoy these resources, we have a corresponding obligation to protect them for current and future generations. That means saying “no” to hair-brained projects like the Pebble mine, which would destroy untold acres of wild salmon habitat in the richest sockeye fishery in the world.
Today, our current law denies Alaskans the right to comment on fish habitat permits. That’s just plain wrong, and it runs contrary to our Constitution. And according to ADFG, of the more than 1530 fish habitat permits issued in 2017, ADFG spent an average of 6.1 days to review them. That’s the definition of a rubber stamp permitting program.
The law in place today to protect our wild salmon is 60 years old and one sentence long. It reads: “The commissioner shall approve the proposed construction, work, or use in writing unless the commissioner finds the plans and specifications insufficient for the proper protection of fish and game.”
Under this simplistic regime, the ADFG Commissioner actually has a mandatory duty to issue a fish habitat permit, unless s/he finds development plans are “insufficient for proper protection.” But there’s no definition for “insufficient for proper protection,” so large project permitting invariably becomes a political question, where the big money and overwhelming influence of corporate interests rule the roost.
We Alaskans are at a crucial turning point in our history, and our kids and their kids will judge what we do today. Will we follow the path of Europe, New England and the Pacific Northwest, and let powerful corporations destroy the very things that make Alaska great? Or will we come together to protect the last wild salmon runs on the planet, and retain the economies and cultures and kinship that make us “salmon people?”
Inletkeeper Stands for Salmon, because we believe Alaska without healthy, wild salmon runs is a place none of us can accept.