ADN should seek something positive

Paper consistently against Alaska's economic development

Posted: Sunday, June 04, 2006

Alaska's largest newspaper, the Anchorage Daily News, is consistent. It is opposed to the natural gas pipeline from Alaska to the Lower 48. The headline in Wednesday's ADN says it all: "Gas line pipe dream a risky one."

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The "pipe dream" designation prepares the reader for the paper's finding fault with the governor's plan and quoting doubters. After the headline, it isn't necessary to read the balance of the three-part series to determine ADN's opinion.

That is consistent with the record of the newspaper. The weekly Anchorage News was founded by Norman Brown in 1946. It became a daily on May 1, 1948, and for the next 10 years was a staunch editorial opponent of Alaska statehood. After Brown sold the paper to the Larry Fannings in 1967, the newspaper opposed construction of the trans-Alaska oil pipeline. After the McClatchy Co. purchased the newspaper in 1978, it opposed logging in Southeast Alaska's Tongass National Forest.

It reiterated its opposition to Tongass logging with a May 22 editorial supporting radical environmental groups and congressmen from other states (who have never been to Alaska), who seek to ban construction of logging roads in the Tongass. ADN's conclusion: "Huge federal subsidies to support Tongass logging don't make sense."

That's right. But it incorrectly assumes who is receiving the "huge" subsidies. It probably was written by ADN staffer Matt Zencey, who was hypercritical of Gov. Frank Murkowski when Murkowski was a senator (Google Zencey to read his screed on Murkowski). Zencey opposed Tongass logging when he was manager for the Alaska Rainforest Campaign, an appropriate stand, we guess, on an Alaska issue for a California-owned newspaper. Zencey bases his opinion on assumptions the environmental groups developed back when there was a "big, bad" logging industry to battle, and before Google.

Times have changed. So has access to information. Editorial writers, environmental groups and anyone commenting publicly should be cautious. It is easy to Google up the facts.

ADN also is misinformed about the controversial Alaska "roads to nowhere." It implies that Congress was generous to let Alaska keep the $452 million earmarked for the projects but just removed the earmark designations. The truth is that Congress can't take the money from Alaska, or from any other state, unless it changes other federal law. That money is the state's share of the Federal Aid Highway Program. The federal government collects fuel taxes and every six years divides the money among the states based on a formula that includes size of the state, population, miles of roads and so forth.

The highway program - the allocation and earmarks for each state - can be obtained through Google and reveals why California's members of Congress, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, were very low profile in the highway earmarks debate.

Of Tongass logging, ADN says: "It's an economic loser that requires huge government subsidies. That's because most of the best, most profitable trees have already been cut. The richest old-growth stands on federal land were high-graded from the 1950s to the 1990s to feed two pulp mills and their associated sawmills, now closed."

That statement is totally inaccurate. Check the Forest Service Web site. About 90 percent of the high-volume old growth that stood in 1954, when the pulp mills started logging, is still standing. And remember, the Forest Service counts the trees; ADN staff and environmental organizations don't.

Only 9.5 million acres of the 16.8 million-acre Tongass are forested. Of that 9.5 million, 5.6 million acres are commercial-grade forests. Only 400,000 acres have been harvested since the national forest was created in 1907 and only 576,000 acres are open to logging in the next 100 years. The rest is in wilderness and other reserves.

We also find that one-half of the cost of the Tongass timber program is attributable to complying with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 and responding to appeals and litigation caused by critics of logging. So the feds are subsidizing who?

ADN's editorial correctly concludes: "The future of the Tongass is with small-scale logging, selective cutting and specialty markets."

The problem with that is that their colleagues in the environmental movement don't agree and have obtained a court order to stop maintenance on logging roads used by small loggers and mill owners!

We understand environmentalists opposing everything except grants to keep themselves paid. We don't understand the newspaper's reason, except to extend its long record of opposing Alaska's economic development.

If ADN is serious about saving federal dollars, it can advocate closing Fort Rich. After all, Anchorage, with Fort Rich and Elmendorf, has two bases. Why should other parts of Alaska take all of the economic hits?

Meanwhile, expect a drumbeat of opposition to the gas pipeline from that newspaper and other opponents of Gov. Frank Murkowski between now and the primary election on Aug. 22.

The ball is now in the Legislature's court. If lawmakers don't like the governor's plan, they should be positive and come up with their own gas line proposal, or join the negatives - ADN and its "greenie" colleagues - so voters know how to vote in August.

• Lew Williams Jr. is a retired publisher of the Ketchikan Daily News.

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