Alaska News Brief August 2020: The Long term consequences of greed

Wow.

What a day, what a week, what a few years.

Like a lot of you, I feel a sense of chaos and overwhelm more than usual these days. The feeling can make it hard to remember everything in the last three years that has challenged our ability as human beings to make the world just and livable for everyone. But it’s important to remember everything–all the pieces, and how they fit together in driving toward long-term outcomes.

In Trustees’ work right now, we face a barrage of politically driven efforts to put Alaska’s life-nourishing places into industry hands–to privatize and industrialize sacred and public lands that are, for exploiters, simply places to take from, make a lot of money, make a big mess, and abandon. But places like Bristol Bay, Alaska’s Arctic, the national preserves and refuges in Alaska can only continue nourishing life and sustaining human health, cultures and ways of life if we protect them.

Drowning out local voices

And people have protected them, and are protecting them, and continue to protect them in the face of years and decades of pressure from Outside forces that elbow their way into positions of power with money and political privilege. Those forces attempt to control the stories by drowning out local voices and their stories about the value of land and water to them and their livelihoods and ways of life. The power of money is undermining what nourishes and sustains us as humans.

Right now, the Army Corps could permit the proposed Pebble mine any day, allowing a hazardous mine to operate at the headwaters of a thriving fishery that has fed the people of the region forever and provides half the world’s sockeye salmon. Bristol Bay communities have shouted, “No” over and over and over for over 15 years, and the majority of Alaskans don’t want the mine either.(1) It has taken the voice of powerful, wealthy people to get the attention of powerful people, and that is welcome news, and also precisely the problem.(2)

Chaos and long term consequences

Local people and frontline communities have protected land and water forever, yet they get drowned out by politics and greed, corporations and the politicians they lobby to get what they want. Already in the past few weeks, agencies have paved the way for an industrial gravel road in the Arctic that is opposed by local communities (we filed a lawsuit), and opened the entire coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge–a place sacred to the Gwich’in Peoples of Alaska and Canada–to oil leasing and drilling. 

These federal actions demand that we put our attention to our clients and filing legal actions, but there’s so much going on. For nearly four years now the administration has gutted regulations, splintered agencies, and made decisions based on political whim rather than science and the law. This intentional chaos and dismantling of agency competency will have huge and enduring consequences.

It will take years, perhaps decades, to re-create and mend the agencies and systems charged with protecting water and air, land and animals, public health and communities.

Though shifts in policy and political leadership can change Trustees’ work from defending against specific exploitive projects to focusing on building just, sustainable, long-term protections for land, water, wildlife and people, they cannot quickly mend these deeper wounds.

Working for a just and livable world

The Trump administration has upended and overturned laws and regulations that required reduced carbon emissions from power plants and vehicles(3), and that required robust public process and analysis when doing environmental reviews of industry proposals.(4) It has driven inequity across all governing systems, allowed continued state-sanctioned violence against people posing no true threat, and spread disinformation that has targeted and slandered citizens and businesses, and contributed to the COVID deaths of tens of thousands of Americans due to misinformation about how to stay safe and keep others safe.(5,6)  

As we are now into the general election season, we must recognize that no matter who takes office, the long-term hardships caused by divisive partisan politics, injustice, the gutting of laws that protect us, the demeaning of functional government that should help us, and the failed response to a pandemic that does not abide human timelines and convenience will endure for years to come.

There is a lot of work ahead of us to get to that just and livable world.

Please vote, stay well, and remember.

Vicki Clark, executive director

PS. Thanks to supporters like you, we can continue fighting to protect Alaska’s land, water, air, wildlife and people!

Footnotes:

  1. Gold vs. Salmon: Alaska Mine Project Just Got a Boost
  2. Republican push to block controversial Alaskan gold mine gains the White House’s attention
  3. Trump Weakens Major Conservation Law to Speed Construction Permits
  4. The Trump Administration Is Reversing 100 Environmental Rules. Here’s the Full List.
  5. The Trump Pandemic
  6. All the President’s Lies About the Coronavirus

A caribou calf leaps around the herd in the Arctic Refuge.
Photo by Florian Schulz.

Trump agencies give Arctic Refuge to Big Oil

The Trump administration has set the stage this week for leasing and drilling on the entire coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge.


Brook in the Arctic Refuge, Katie in the mountains. The summer of 2020 they celebrated 10 years with Trustees

Ten years is a long time until it flies

Brook Brisson and Katie Strong celebrate ten years with Trustees this summer. Here, they reflect on a decade of work.


Photo by Jayme Dittmar

We sued over bogus Ambler road decision

This month we sued the Trump administration challenging its illegal approval of the proposed Ambler road, a 211-mile, state-subsidized industrial gravel road to benefit private mining companies, which would destroy and pollute Arctic land, water, air and communities.


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