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Attacks on 'Outside' companies wrong, undemocratic

Posted: August 27, 2012 - 12:36am

This editorial first appeared in the Alaska Journal of Commerce:

An initiative governing resource development is on the Aug. 28 primary ballot and it was only a matter of time before the backers of Proposition 2 to reinstate a coastal zone management program played the “Outsider” card.

Here we go again.

After finance disclosures were filed with the state for June and July, the Alaska Sea Party put out a press release decrying the fact the group has been outraised 10-1 by their opponents who were characterized as “foreign” and “Outside” companies.

Notably, while accusing these companies of a nefarious scheme to buy an election and silence Alaskans, the Sea Party did not attempt to refute the main argument against Prop. 2 — that it will inject a tremendous amount of new uncertainties into a permitting process already fraught with them.

Those favoring Prop. 2 also continue to imply that they are simply restoring the previous coastal zone management program when that is hardly the case.

Instead, the only counter to the Vote No on 2 group by the Sea Party appears to be that their position is illegitimate because of the location of their company headquarters.

These attacks on “foreign” or “Outside” companies participating in the political process in a state where they have invested billions of dollars and employ tens of thousands of Alaskans aren’t just wrong. They are undemocratic, and, in the end, stunningly hypocritical.

We’ve seen this argument about “foreigners” deployed repeatedly against the developers of the proposed Pebble mine project, Anglo American of London and Northern Dynasty Minerals of Vancouver.

The constant use of “foreign” as a pejorative to cast these companies in an unfavorable light is farcical while bordering on xenophobic. No one believes the opposition to Pebble would somehow melt away or diminish if Anglo American and Northern Dynasty were headquartered in Alaska.

We’re not surprised to see this volley fired against the opponents of Prop. 2. The Sea Party has only raised about $63,000, but at least a third of that came in two donations from opponents of the Pebble mine.

While the anti-Pebble forces have no problem with a consortium of Japanese-owned fish processors coming out against the project, we are supposed to believe there is something wrong with a Japanese mining company, Pogo owner Sumitomo, contributing to the “Vote No on 2” effort.

Our courts, our airwaves and our ballot boxes are open to all sides and viewpoints. Yet the Prop. 2 and the anti-Pebble forces act like these venues should only be available to those they agree with.

Such double standards are unfortunately ubiquitous in Alaska.

When Lake and Peninsula Borough passed a residency requirement stricter than state standards and rejected some ballots in the 2010 and 2011 elections, a lawsuit was filed and the ordinance was overturned to great cheers from the anti-Pebble forces.

Yet when the Pebble Partnership uses the courts to challenge an equally constitutionally dubious Lake and Pen ordinance that would supersede the state role in permitting, the same folks cry foul.

Similarly, environmental groups will sue, sue and sue again to contest permitting documents and decisions, yet they have rushed to embrace a scientifically indefensible assessment of mining impacts on the Bristol Bay watershed.

Environmental activists would never stand for a document as incomplete as the EPA assessment to be used to allow resource development, yet they have no problem looking the other way in this case because they think it can help them short-circuit the permitting process to shut Pebble down.

In December 2010, a coalition of fishing groups and the State of Alaska sued the federal government, and eventually won, on the grounds that National Marine Fisheries Service didn’t follow the law when it imposed wide-ranging cod and mackerel closures in the western Aleutians based on a theory the action would protect food sources for endangered Steller sea lions.

A federal judge agreed with the state and fishermen, and noted the resulting economic harm in ordering NMFS to prepare a full environmental impact statement to support the action.

Like free speech, the rule of law is not a one-way street, and stakeholders who decry the feds cutting corners when it works against them cannot credibly argue that the same government should do an end-run around the process when it suits them.

There are plenty of arguments in favor of Prop. 2 or against the Pebble mine, but the location of corporate headquarters is hardly one of them.

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