Cut, kill, mine, drill: Alaskans deserve better from this administration

Written by Aaron Brakel

November 15, 2023

Dunleavy administration prioritizes short-term natural resource extraction over health of land, water, people

Southeast Alaska is an amazing place, gifted with tremendous environmental wealth.  Mighty mainland rivers deliver nutrient- rich, glacier-cooled, fresh water into  a vast forested island landscape filled with countless productive ecosystem niches, both above and below the water’s surface. Here, giant terrestrial forest thins into wetland scrub, flows into riparian reaches, slows in fish-filled estuaries, and gives way to wave-driven intertidal wetlands before finally joining with the warm and salty marine waters of the Alaska current.

Southeast Alaska has so much. This is a place of eulachon and sand lance, eelgrass, black cod, coho, and not far off, mountain goats. Few places in this world have what we have here – healthy, productive, wild land and seascapes, only lightly touched by industry. We are so blessed.

And yet, as Alaskans, we have to ask ourselves, do our state’s leaders appreciate the value our lands and waters are quietly and steadily providing every hour of every day?

“Imagine for a moment an Alaska where our leaders used the state’s powers to protect the lands and waters that power our sustainable economy…”

How is it that Alaska, a place of so much beauty and promise, is also a place where our state executives risk and squander amazing renewable natural wealth in exchange for a narrow vision of resource extraction?

Cut, kill, mine, drill—Alaska’s current administration is close-mindedly focused on short-term natural resource extraction for the benefit of big industry.

Our Governor continuously attacks the limited environmental protections available to us. He’s suing the Environmental Protection Agency over its veto of the Pebble Mine and now the  United States Forest Service over the restoration of the Roadless Rule on the Tongass.

Consider Governor Dunleavy’s efforts to take over federal wetlands permitting. Are they based on a desire to improve environmental protection? Not likely. Dunleavy’s efforts to take permitting or resource management control from the federal government are intended to grease the wheels of big business.

Even our own Alaska environmental protections are attacked by this Governor. Instead of stepping up and protecting Alaska’s waters from things like dirty exhaust scrubber washwater dumping in the Inside Passage, in 2019 Mike Dunleavy infamously defunded and eliminated Alaska’s Ocean Ranger watchdog program. And just this year he vetoed legislation that would have safely brought an end to the use of PFAS “forever chemicals” and given Alaskan communities a safe way of disposing of PFAS.

His administration lowers the bar for mining corporations so low that the Department of Environmental Conservation doesn’t enforce its own permits.

Alaskans deserve better.

Imagine for a moment an Alaska where our leaders used the state’s powers to protect the lands and waters that power our sustainable economy. What if instead of chumming up at gatherings of elite private capital investors in foreign capitals, our governor was stewarding and improving the landscape we all depend on?

What if, instead of supporting a Canadian miner’s plan to dump polluted mine  water into the ground above the Chilkat Valley – and then hiding that approval from Tribes and the public—our governor insisted on a Clean Water Act permit and thorough and comprehensive environmental review?

What if, instead of allowing sulfide rock to be left exposed to acidify and leach toxic heavy metals at the Niblack Project, our governor made sure the state lived up to its own permitting and required the rock to be covered and then sealed back underground?

What if our governor lived up to the Alaska Constitution’s sustained yield principle instead of racing to liquidate State Forest lands in Southeast Alaska in a completely unbalanced five year timber plan? Unfortunately, we cannot reasonably expect that kind of moderation from Governor Dunleavy.

So, what hope is there?

After multiple sessions of paralyzing budget crises, it seems the state Legislature has caught a breath of fresh air—literally. In January, 20 first-year were sworn into the Legislature. While the threats to Southeast Alaska’s special places are increasingly coming from the State government rather than from the Federal, this new state Legislature has gotten our attention. From the (unfortunately vetoed for now) PFAS ban to the permanent extension of the Renewable Energy Fund, this Legislature has demonstrated the ability to get good work done, and you can expect SEACC to be working on state issues more closely in the coming months and years.

Photo credit: Mel Izard

Read this story in the Ravencall Fall/Winter 2023-2024 PDF edition.

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