Alaska editorial: Don't let greed cut into common sense

Posted: Monday, April 07, 2008

The following editorial first appeared in the Alaska Journal of Commerce:

B ristol Bay is a rare gem. The region contains one of the few sustainable salmon fisheries left on the planet. It is among the most biodiverse areas in the world.

Given the riches of this area and the vital interests, both from a cultural and an economical standpoint, it is sure to be a robust conversation that surrounds two significant proposals currently gaining steam.

The Pebble mine project is well onto the radar, but another upcoming proposal may be every bit as controversial: The offshore lease sale for oil and gas in Bristol Bay.

Multiple interests converged at the ComFish conference held earlier this month in Kodiak. Folks from a variety of fields, including fishing groups, local chefs and international corporate suits, gathered there. Everyone engaged had a stake, some whose livelihoods hang in the balance of the decisions that will be made in the next few years.

Currently Alaska has it all. It has resource development in the form of oil, gas, mining, timber and salmon. The fact that the debate is beginning to gain momentum should not be surprising. What surprises is when those who represent the business interests - specifically the heavy industry interests of oil, gas and mining - seem to be offended by the idea that the opposition even exists and is raising legitimate questions.

To be blunt, people have decimated this planet; from an environmental standpoint we have all but destroyed it either through reckless development or toxic pollution. Most of the major fisheries in the world are either extinct or greatly diminished. Look at the West Coast: In an unprecedented move, federal officials closed commercial fishing along the coast for the first time ever.

The devastation man has wrought upon the environment is indisputable. So why is it, then, when business interests implore the people to "trust them," they seem offended if anyone chooses not to fall unblinkingly in step?

The global track record when it comes to conservation is deplorable. Greed has led the world down a polluted path in the name of profit.

Now, as a business industry, we are all about profit. But when business entities rubber-stamp everything in terms of development they fail to realize they are marginalized when it comes to the public.

Listen to the comments from some of those in the resource industry and a blatant lack of thought quickly becomes evident. Their comments often aren't thoughtful, don't take into account the valid concerns of others and are rarely helpful, especially when ignoring past abuse and misstep.

These discussions are of epic proportion for the people of Alaska. To dismiss out of hand any rational or scientific argument because it doesn't support your motive smacks of arrogance.

The state has it all now, but could lose it all if the right decisions aren't made. If we leave it to the monied industry interests or the radical who wants to stop all development, the entire state will pay a heavy price.

We are not suggesting that Alaskans should continue to develop their resources on a magnanimous scale. But if we choose to, it should be a decision for all of us and one that should be measured, thoughtful, researched and not done for the wrong reasons.

We cannot allow greed to negate common sense, as it has in the past. What is at stake simply is this: the world's largest salmon fishery and the state's future.

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