Healthy environment essential to economy

Posted: Thursday, June 28, 2007

There have been a number of dueling letters to the editor over the past several days regarding SEACC's proper role in our local economy. Mostly the letters have made for entertaining as well as informative reading, but the heated rhetoric in a couple of them reflect closed minds, resorting to name-calling instead of reasoned discourse.

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Usually it's best to ignore that kind of diatribe, but in this case I wanted to make it known that there exists a broad middle ground. Having lived in Juneau for several decades and managed a variety of small businesses during that period, I recognize and support the value of a healthy economy as much as anyone. At the same time, I am a longtime member and supporter of SEACC.

I want to make it clear that I strongly believe a healthy environment is essential for a healthy economy. Sure, we can create short-term booms by pillaging our resources, taking the spoils and getting out quick. But over the long term, a stable and robust economy means protecting and sustaining the unique attributes of our extraordinary home.

Consider for a moment the trade-offs in broad terms: We can clear-cut most of our forests, or we can limit the huge sales and support smaller local mills coexisting with healthy tourism and fishing industries; we can build miles of roads in every which direction to emulate the rest of the United States, or we can create an efficient marine highway system that leaves the wilderness close at hand for our recreational pleasure; we can rush to develop our mines with minimal environmental restraints, or we can make sure the mines adhere to our standards for a clean environment before permitting them.

This last issue - standards for mining - has been the flashpoint for the current round of controversy, with SEACC having successfully challenged Kensington's end-run around the Clean Water Act. For Kensington's short-term profits, that court decision may be a detriment, but for the long-term health of Southeast's fisheries, which depend heavily on our pristine waters to compete against global farmed salmon production, it was a huge victory.

Coeur Alaska is just representing its shareholders' interests but can still develop its mine using the proven environmentally sound method of dry-stack tailings. SEACC's success in this contentious case is just one more example of its supporting a sustainable economy against shortsighted corporate special interests.

Bart Watson


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