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My Turn: DNR's unfortunate mission change

Posted: February 2, 2012 - 12:09am

Earlier this month, Department of Natural Resources employees received an email from a Deputy Commissioner, saying that their mission statement had been changed. The old one read: “To develop, conserve, and enhance natural resources for present and future Alaskans.”

The new one: “To responsibly develop Alaska’s resources by making them available for maximum use and benefit consistent with the public interest.”

The word “conserve” and the phrase “future Alaskans” have both been removed in this change. Under the old mission, the department served “present and future Alaskans.’ Under the new mission, the department serves development, so long as it is ‘consistent with the public interest’.

The new mission puts development interests ahead of Alaskan interests, and removes the focus on Alaska’s future. This is a step backwards for our state.

Alaska’s leaders hold our riches in trust, not just for the benefit of this generation, but also for those to come. We are all concerned with how we leave Alaska for future generations. We want our children to enjoy the benefits of resource wealth, like we have enjoyed in recent decades. Given this, it saddened us to learn that DNR lost an explicit focus on conservation and future generations in the new mission statement.

Long term, strategic development of our resources requires more than a test of whether development ‘is consistent with the public interest.’ It requires our leaders determine how development serves Alaskans.

Development serves us for what it provides to our communities, the royalties we get for selling our resource, and the jobs it creates for Alaskans. A conservationist approach to resource extraction simply asks that development benefits outweigh the costs, both in the present and in the future. This change removes the balance between development and conservation, and doesn’t take our future into consideration.

It would be nice to know that our energy needs, our economy and the livability of our communities is secure when TAPS closes down, when the gold is gone, and when we’ve sold all the North Slope gas to China. We want our leaders to make hard choices about how we conserve and develop our resources today, so Alaskans get the maximum benefit from our non-renewable resources.

Unfortunately, it isn’t clear that Governor Parnell has our long term interests in mind when putting our resources on the market. At a time of record oil industry profits and high commodity prices, Governor Parnell wants to increase oil industry corporate profits with a $2 billion a year tax break. He has proposed spending $500 million in public funds to support resource extraction infrastructure. Put simply, you don’t lower the price of a product when demand is increasing and supply is limited.

Fortunately, the change may not be permanent. During a legislative oversight hearing last week in Juneau, lawmakers questioned whether the administration could unilaterally change a department’s mission, given a state law that charges the legislature to set such direction. We hope that any revisiting of the new mission statement includes a public process, where Alaskans can weigh in on any change of direction.

If the current administration were committed to getting us the maximum value for resource extraction in our state, it would keep the word “conserve” and the phrase “for present and future Alaskans” in the DNR mission statement. It would take steps daily to manifest its obligation to more than just those of us who are lucky to be right here in this great state, right now. A path towards a sustainable future, where development and conservation provide long term stability in our economy, requires nothing less than that approach.

• Ketchel is executive director of the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, Kelly is executive director of the Northern Alaska Environmental Center, Rolfe is executive director of Trustees for Alaska and Moderow is executive director of the Alaska Conservation Alliance.

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