Governor Parnell: Do the right thing for our salmon habitat

By Rob Ernst

Last week, the Parnell administration ruled a wild salmon stream in Cook Inlet was “suitable” for large-scale coal strip mining.
You read that right. In response to a petition from local Alaskans looking to protect salmon habitat from the proposed Chuitna coal strip mine, the Parnell administration said “no.” This wasn’t an attempt to stop the coal mine; it simply asked the governor to prevent mining through salmon streams. For most Alaskans, that’s a no-brainer.
In his run for office, Gov. Parnell promised Alaskans on numerous occasions he’d “never trade one resource for another.” At the time, I applauded that position. But the governor’s words belie his actions. Why? Because the technology does not exist to build a new salmon stream after it’s been mined down to 350 feet. If the coal company could miraculously build new salmon streams, wouldn’t it make a heck of a lot more money building fish streams in Oregon, Washington and California instead of strip mining Alaska’s streams to ship low grade coal to China?
It’s not a single decision that raises concerns over the governor’s blind eye toward salmon habitat protection, but rather, a host of decisions.
Earlier this year, for example, the Parnell administration rejected a request from commercial fishermen and private property owners to provide public notice to Alaskans on permits that will destroy local salmon habitat. The governor’s rationale? It would be too burdensome to let us Alaskans participate in decisions affecting our salmon resources. In the meantime, the state takes an average of 7 days to rubber stamp these fish habitat permits for big mining, oil and gas projects. In a later decision, the Parnell administration refused to halt the long-term removal of salmon streams during mining operations.
Let’s not forget, the Parnell administration played a central role killing our Alaska Coastal Management Program, which was the only law which gave Alaskans a meaningful voice in federal decisions affecting our coastal salmon habitat. Now, Alaska – which possesses more coastline than all the Lower 48 states combined – is the only state where the federal government can issue permits impacting salmon habitat without the state having a real seat at the table.
Finally, there’s House Bill 77, introduced by the governor earlier this year. HB 77 is a grab bag of anti-salmon, anti-democracy provisions. Among other things, HB 77 grants new super powers to DNR, allowing the commissioner to completely ignore Alaskan voices and bypass fish habitat rules when issuing permits. This provision is a massive concentration of government power at the expense of Alaskans, and it undermines our ability to help shape responsible resource decisions. Another provision strips away the rights of Alaskans to keep enough water in our streams to support salmon. A state court already found the Parnell administration is illegally favoring out of stream uses for mining over instream flows for salmon, so instead of obeying the law and protecting salmon, the Parnell administration now just wants to change the law. These are but a couple of the reasons why HB 77 is the most anti-salmon legislation to hit the streets since Frank Murkowski ran the show.
I grew up in Nikiski on the Kenai Peninsula and I’ve fished Cook Inlet my entire life. Regardless whether you fish commercially or for sport, personal use or subsistence, we all need to take care of our breadbasket – which is our salmon habitat. We know from painful experience that fisheries have virtually disappeared due to habitat impacts in Europe, New England and the Pacific Northwest. And, we hear time and again that “Alaska has a world class permitting system.” But if you look closely, we’re experiencing the very same “death by a thousand cuts” phenomena that led to the demise of once-healthy fish runs across the globe. In his recent letter to Wal-Mart, Gov. Parnell said the right things:
“Alaska’s Constitution mandates that all fisheries must be managed under the principle of maximum sustained yield, for the conservation of our fish and their habitat and the maximum benefit of fishing families, communities, and businesses.”
Mr. Governor, saying the right thing and doing the right thing are two different things. So, do the right thing. Put the balance back into Alaska’s salmon habitat management. Let’s manage our fish habitat for the maximum benefit of all Alaskans. And that means no mining through wild Alaskan salmon streams and “no” on HB 77.

Rob Ernst is a lifelong commercial fisherman from Nikiski, and a boardmember of Cook Inletkeeper, a community-based organization working to protect clean water and healthy salmon in the Cook Inlet watershed.

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Posted by on Aug 7th, 2013 and filed under Point of View. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

3 Responses for “Governor Parnell: Do the right thing for our salmon habitat”

  1. David Otness says:

    Sean Parnell is a perfect, yes perfect example of what I call a ‘corporateur’.
    A professional prevaricator with a juris degree in guile and plausible deniability.
    A shallow, hollow vessel for corporate interests and no obvious fealty nor protective sentiment to the land and people who took his family in and gave him such significant opportunities and choices of conscience in representing the will and hopes of the People of Alaska.
    I will not entreat him to do the right thing, he thinks and believes he IS doing the right thing within the narrow confines of his perceptions of life in general. You are seeing his simplistic philosophy personified, there is no ‘more’ to appeal to, no epiphany from the likes of him and his willing henchmen/corporations.
    No, this is the Murkowski Syndrome all over again.
    Parnell would have never achieved this Office had he not snuck in under Sarah Palin’s skirts and having to face only the ever-questionable Jerry Ward in the 2006 Republcan Lt Gov primary. He was never a viable candidate on his own and needed to stay in his natural element – the shadows – as most Alaskans never even knew he worked so diligently as a corporate yes-boy for Exxon as they successfully fought against Alaskans receiving damages from the 1989 spill. It was then he went on to work for “Alaska’s Oil and Gas company. And when the disgust with Murkowski was reaching its crescendo, ConocoPhillips said to Sean -“We have another job we’d like you to do for us” – and Sean knows from long experience who ultimately butters his bread.
    So, he’ll get no polite entreaties from me asking him to “Choose Respect” and not one resource over another.
    No, we simply must resoundingly dump his sorry, hypocritical ass just as we did Murkowski and must do with his corporate-driven SB 21. Sean has done his work well for industry, he’ll never need to see an unemployment check. The bonuses alone for these past few years will be spectacular!
    Yes, he and his fellow ALEC-propelled henchies must be excised from our government if we are ever to turn this place back into the Alaska we knew and loved.
    You see, that is the Alaska Parnell focused on changing, the Alaska he loathed for its peoples’ inconvenient and persistent questioning of his and his ilk’s sole focus on a corporate privatizing spree and the public be damned, even God-damned!
    This is who and in particular, what we are dealing with here:
    I give you Governor Corporat Personhood Parnell.

  2. Teresa M. Pedersen says:

    Parnell, you have been here to long to not know what the fights are with clean water. Mistakes made with Valdez spill; are inexcusable to test Pebble Mine.
    When fuel corporations don’t have there own boats and clean up supplies; at our states expense is asking for trouble. Do you want fish? You can’t ignore what oil problems we face with out Pebble Mine. For example a tender boat in Bristol Bay on Igushik beach upside down in a storm. How about putting people to work on the old pipe line that is aging!!!!!

    You pass a bill that Alaska doesn’t get Govt. help to cover uninsured medical costs!!! The Alaska population has to pay 100%!!!! What?????

    I’ll remember you.

  3. Marilyn Wheeless says:

    Asking this corporate shill to take the concerns of Alaskans into consideration is a waste of time, energy, and money. It’s time for us to realize our governor doesn’t CARE about Alaska, his pockets are lined forever and we and our piddly little concerns about water, air, fish can just take a flying leap. If it doesn’t cause his coffers to overflow with non-renewable resource cash, he doesn’t care, and I’m not talking about the state’s coffers, but Parnell’s personal coffers…..anybody who calls him or herself an ‘Alaskan’ had better show up to vote on the SB21 repeal when its on the ballot…the consequences of this is only the start if people don’t grow a backbone and say NO in a voice old enough not to be misunderstood.

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