Environmentalists shouldn't be blamed

Letter to the editor

Posted: Sunday, March 21, 2004

In proposing to move the Alaska Marine Highway System headquarters to his hometown, Gov. Murkowski claimed in speeches and in print (Empire, March 9) that he was "very disappointed" when the Clinton administration and its "environmental allies" in Alaska "joined forces to close down" the pulp mills in Sitka and Ketchikan. Now he says the AMHS move serves to "balance the impact" of these closures.

Blaming the Democrats and/or the environmentalists for Alaska's ills is almost a mantra for this governor. But recent developments have shown the lie in his mill-closure assertion.

The history of the pulp industry in Southeast Alaska, its self-mutilation and eventual demise, is detailed in the recent federal court decision in Alaska Pulp Corporation vs. United States of America. The court's opinion is fascinating and very readable, and is available at the court's website.

The story reveals that the Alaska Pulp Corporation mill here in Sitka was heavily subsidized from day one by both the United States and Japanese governments. It operated for three decades without profit, but in the process, managed to bully government regulators to allow "high-grading" of important watersheds, to poison the air and water in Sitka and to break the union that represented 300 company workers.

It is almost funny to hear Gov. Murkowski blame the federal government for the loss of local mill jobs. It was the company that sent 300 long-term Sitka families packing in 1986. It then replaced them with an out-of-state workforce, which ran the mill at reduced wages for its last few years.

Finally, when the best watersheds had been logged off and the world pulp market declined, the mill closed. The judge's decision quotes company officials statements acknowledging that market forces, not government action, led to the closure.

It is time for the governor to stop trotting out his fabricated chronicle of the Tongass to justify his AMHS headquarters move. Why does this governor favor the move? Perhaps the real reason can be found in his family's long connection to banking and the mortgage market in Ketchikan. As "Deep Throat" told the Watergate investigators, "Follow the money."

James W. McGowan


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