I remember ice floes in fast-moving water and hoarfrost on cars. I remember a steaming volcano in the distance. I remember 100 bald eagles in the trees.
In late 1995, I drove down the Kenai Peninsula to accept the job running Cook Inletkeeper. It felt like another world.
The year before, a dedicated group of Alaskans had sued the oil industry in Cook Inlet, alleging over 4200 toxic dumping violations under the federal Clean Water Act. Rather than fight a losing battle in court, Shell, Marathon & Unocal settled the case, and directed funds to start-up Cook Inletkeeper. I was the first hire.
Those were heady days. Alaskans were still reeling from the devastation of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, and the oil industry in Upper Cook Inlet had a long history dumping and spilling with impunity.
Last month, I resigned from my position as Advocacy Director and Inletkeeper. Looking back over my 26 years with Cook Inletkeeper, I think we made some important strides. We released a report on aging and leaking pipelines that helped dramatically reduce spill rates in critical habitat for the endangered Cook Inlet beluga whale. We fought hard to remove the oil storage terminal at the base of an active volcano (Mt. Redoubt), which led to reduced spills risks and tanker traffic in Cook Inlet. And we conducted research showing how Alaskans would be left holding the bag for abandoned oil & gas infrastructure, which led to higher bonding levels for oil platforms and pipelines and better public policy.
Like many things in life, however, we won some, and we lost some.
Perhaps the worst setback came when the oil, gas & mining companies dismantled the Alaska Coastal Management Program, which gave local Alaskans a real voice in local resource development decisions. Now, despite the fact Alaska possesses more coastline than all the Lower 48 states combined, we’re the only coastal state without a coastal management program. We can thank Frank Murkowski and Sean Parnell (among others) for that one.
But for every setback, Inletkeeper notched many successes. We pioneered scientific research at the intersection of climate change and wild salmon protection. We developed and led the state’s first and most comprehensive citizen-based water quality monitoring program. We started a novel clean boating and clean harbors program that educated thousands of Alaskans. And we secured endangered species status for the beleaguered Cook Inlet beluga whale.
Today, however, the gorilla in the room remains climate change. That’s why Inletkeeper’s work to keep fossil fuels in the ground—and to promote clean energy economies—has been some of the most important and satisfying. Most notably, our work spearheading the Alaska Coal Campaign—and stopping the proposed Chuitna coal strip mine on the west side of Cook Inlet—kept billions of tons of carbon in the ground and out of the atmosphere.
Now, Inletkeeper is working to stop a hastily-planned Trump Administration oil and gas lease sale—Lease Sale 258—that would open-up a million acres of Lower Cook Inlet’s rich frontier waters to a web of oil platforms and pipelines.
In the 1970s, local fishermen and activists faced a similar threat when the State of Alaska leased Kachemak Bay for oil and gas exploration. But strong local pushback forced state officials to buy back the oil leases and to protect this magnificent area.
It’s hard to imagine Kachemak Bay pocked with giant oil platforms and refining facilities spewing pollution and undermining the thriving fishing and tourism economies we see today. But it almost happened. Now it’s our turn to ensure Lower Cook Inlet doesn’t fall prey to the same threats.
Fortunately, Cook Inletkeeper is well-equipped to take on this important fight. Our amazing new lawyer, Liz Mering, is taking the reins on advocacy issues as the next Inletkeeper, and she’s working closely with a strong team led by our longtime scientist-turned-Executive Director, Sue Mauger, to tackle the many fossil fuel and other issues facing our irreplaceable home.
It’s a daunting job, but I know the Inletkeeper crew and the countless people, groups and businesses who support them are more than up to it.
In closing, I’ll just say “thank you” for the opportunity and the privilege to work at something I loved and cared deeply about. I couldn’t think of a better way to spend the past 26 years than working to fulfill Cook Inletkeeper’s ambitious mission to protect the Cook Inlet watershed and the life it sustains.
Thank you for reading. We are able to do this work because of member support from concerned citizens like you. Please donate today to protect Cook Inlet for our future generations.