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The line not blurred by Parnell — oil, gas development at all costs

Posted: August 13, 2011 - 10:53pm

Gov. Sean Parnell recently blurred the line between state and church when he followed Governor Rick Perry’s lead in declaring a “Day of Prayer”. Presidential candidate Perry clearly was playing to the evangelical crowd critical to his election bid and Governor Parnell jumped right on board with his own proclamation; one that makes a not so veiled reference to gay marriage by citing that our “families are under act on many fronts”. Using the Governor’s office to advance his religious beliefs on marriage steps on that all important separation line established by our founding fathers.

There is however, one line that Governor Parnell appears to be deliberately not blurring and that is the line between being environmentally responsible and developing offshore oil and gas resources. This is best exhibited by the demise of the Alaska Coastal Management Program (ACMP) which the Parnell Administration orchestrated. First, they indicated a willingness to comprise with local government representatives then as the negotiations came close to resolution during the legislative session, the Parnell Administration refused to budge on accommodating local knowledge as a tool along with science in ascertaining how best to manage coastal resources. Next, the Parnell Administration aggressively started dismantling the program so that when the next special session occurred it created a high bar of functionality to return to. This was a development only shared with legislators upon their return to Juneau for a two day session to extend the ACMP. Although the “it’s too late” message from the Parnell Administration frustrated legislators, in the end it was the veto threat by the Governor that ensured there would not be enough votes to extend the program. And as such, the demise of the ACMP clearly rests with the Parnell Administration and not the Alaska Legislature.

The absence of the ACMP removes the right of coastal districts and local governments to weigh in on coastal development through state and federal permits. Sure they can still comment on projects within their coastal areas but now thanks to the Parnell Administration their comments have no standing and can be ignored. In turn, the federal government no longer needs to pay attention to the state’s comments. Essentially, we’ve now handed over management of our rich offshore waters and the renewable jobs they support to the federal government. Why? So Alaska’s oil and gas projects can be more easily permitted and not constrained by coastal districts concerned with protecting subsistence and fisheries resources in their own backyard.

Last week, Pat Forgey with the Juneau Empire reported, “Alaska is becoming a national leader in a new area, relaxing its regulation of offshore oil drilling spill response and prevention at a time when others are seeking more protections.” Given the disaster of the BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill and the strong recommendations from the Oil Spill Commission, other states are looking to move in the opposite direction; to bolster oil spill prevention regulations and establish a more robust culture of safety and prevention. Given the push to drill offshore in the Arctic and the current limitations of technology to clean oil spill in remote ice laden waters, the State of Alaska should not only be among these responding states but leading them.

Instead we stand alone in weakening our offshore drilling regulations. We also stand alone as the state who has the most challenging environment to safely drill in. The National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling addressed the issue of drilling in the Arctic. “Bringing the potentially large oil resources of the Arctic outer continental shelf into production safely will require an especially delicate balancing of economic, human, environmental and technological factors. Both industry and government will have to demonstrate standards and a level of performance higher (emphasis added) than they have ever achieved before.” For the Parnell Administration to systematically lower the standards in light of this bipartisan, national recommendation is a slap in the face toward any notion of responsible development. Instead it is message that when it comes to offshore oil and gas, it is development at all costs, even if it means giving away the voice of local communities.

The Parnell Administration started blurring the lines of ‘environmentally responsible development’ early when it began to aggressively challenge the legitimacy of the endangered species act. Now with the deliberate demise of the ACMP, they have shown their true colors. We need no longer be lulled in by the Administration’s rhetoric of ‘responsibly opening the Arctic’.

• Troll is a longtime Alaska resident and resides in Douglas.

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