The War on Alaska Salmon: Conflicts of Interest & Corporate Influence Infect Wild Salmon Protection
Your right as an Alaskan to wild, healthy salmon is under assault. These are strong words, and we don’t take them lightly.  But the fact remains that large corporations are […]
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Your right as an Alaskan to wild, healthy salmon is under assault.

These are strong words, and we don’t take them lightly.  But the fact remains that large corporations are now woven into the very fabric of our government and our society, and their corporate DNA is manifesting itself in countless ways, big and small, to undermine basic safeguards for our wild salmon habitat and the people and families they support.

Giant Mining Corporations Fighting Fish Habitat Protections

As Deep Throat famously advised during the Watergate scandal, “Follow the money.”  Since the Supreme Court’s infamous ruling in Citizens United—where the Court ruled that corporations are “people,” money is “speech,” and therefore corporations can spend unlimited amounts on our elections—our politics and our government have become nothing short of an auction to the highest bidder.

In Alaska, a little bit of money can go a long way to influence political decisions. And a lot of money can go even further.  We recently learned that large mining corporations recently spent $1 million to fight the Stand for Salmon InitiativeStand for Salmon is the grassroots effort to allow Alaskans to strengthen fish habitat protections, which have not been updated in the past 60 years.

So, why don’t large mining, oil and gas companies want you to protect our salmon habitat? In short, it’s because protecting habitat costs money—money that could otherwise go toward to increased profits, higher CEO salaries or better stock dividends.

Everyone says they love salmon, and that they support salmon habitat protections. But as the saying goes, “money talks,” and recent contributions from these companies against stronger habitat protections say a lot:

Donlin: $200,000; Kinross: $200,000; Sumitomo: $200,000; Pebble: $200,000; Hecla: $200,000

Ok, so while it’s alarming how much money these companies are spending, it’s no surprise they will open their wallets to protect their profits. But how does this relate to government oversight?

The Proverbial Fox Guarding the Henhouse

To truly understand the breadth and scope of corporate influence, it’s important to recognize where and how corporations influence our governments.  While there are countless ways – from donations to politicians and hosted boondoggles, to think tanks and straight out political pressure – sometimes corporations get folded into the very government meant to oversee them.

The Alaska Minerals Commission is an excellent example.  This obscure Commission was signed into law in 1988, and it’s unusual for two reasons. First, the commission is composed entirely of miners and mining companies. No attempt to balance things here.  Second – and perhaps equally disturbing – the Commission’s charge is to nakedly promote more mining:

“The commission shall make recommendations to the governor and to the legislature on ways to mitigate the constraints, including governmental constraints, on development of minerals, including coal, in the state.”  AS 44.33.431(c).

A quick look at the Alaska Mineral Commission’s 2018 Report reveals how it aims to “mitigate the constraints” on mining in Alaska.  Among other things, it takes direct aim opposing the Stand for Salmon Initiative, it urges the state to strip everyday Alaskans of their rights to keep enough water in streams to support salmon, and it wants to limit current protections under the Clean Water Act.

So, there you have it. A committee of our own state government, supported with our tax dollars, providing a platform for mining companies to make recommendations to the very government meant to regulate it.  Sounds good if you have a stake in a mining corporation.

So how does this relate to corporate spending to fight the Stand for Salmon Initiative? Just look at who runs Alaska Minerals Commission, and you’ll see that Pebble and Kinross occupy two Board seats—the very same corporations shelling out big bucks to knee-cap the Stand for Salmon Initiative. This arrangement reeks of conflict-of-interest, and the Alaska Attorney General should take a serious look here.

Influencing Our Kids & Teachers

Finally, if we truly want to understand corporate influence, look no further than our youth.

Alaska Resource Education (ARE) is a group of corporations – largely from extractive industries – that go into classrooms around the state to influence our kids and their teachers.

ARE circulates K-8 curriculum throughout our schools, it has an entire course around mining called “Rock & Roll,” and it generate videos and other media content of kids speaking of the virtues of mining, oil and gas.

Of course, heavy industry provides important commodities for our modern world, and good jobs for anyone able to get one. But when we start to indoctrinate our youth with lopsided perspectives at a young age, the effort turns into just another propaganda machine designed to promote more large-scale mining, oil and gas projects in the decades to come.

And who’s on the ARE Board? Representatives from Kinross, Usibelli Coal, BP & ConocoPhillips, among others.  In other words, the very same folks also actively backing the anti-salmon group spearheaded to kill the Stand for Salmon Initiative.

Connecting the Dots

So, we see here that large corporations are trying to influence our elections with large infusions of cash.  We also see these corporations co-opting our state government to shape state mining policy, and working to mold positive opinions of their industries in our teachers and kids.

This is but a quick Alaskan snapshot in what’s commonly referred to as “corporate capture,” which one author describes:  “Corporations have effectively captured [our government]: its judiciary, its political system, and its national wealth, without assuming any of the responsibilities of dominion. Evidence is everywhere.”

Cook Inletkeeper understands the corporations have one main, driving fiduciary duty to their investors: maximize profits. We also know protecting salmon habitat—and fostering a free and open democracy—often reduce profits. So, it’s clear the corporate interest is not the public interest, and if Alaskans want to protect our wild salmon, we need to recognize a basic fact:  the salmon habitat protection system is broken, and it’s up to “we Alaskans” to fix it.

Today, we are repeating the very same mistakes which lead to the demise of wild salmon runs across the world.  We must break the profit-driven corporate stronghold if we want our kids to enjoy the same fisheries we do. So, learn more. Get engaged. Do something, anything, to help ensure wild, healthy salmon remain a part of our Alaska landscape for generations to come.  More info at: