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Parnell's 'outrage' at Fortymile mine inspections is pandering

James McGowan
Alaska governor Sean Parnell questions Ken Fisher, EPA deputy director for Alaska, at a meeting in the Chicken community hall on Sept. 14, 2013. Loren Holmes photo

Governor Parnell must not get out much. Either that, or he is running for office again. Maybe both.

Recently he has spoken of his "outrage" because state and federal officials visited the famous Fortymile River mining district as part of an inspection of ongoing water pollution violations while they were armed and wearing body armor.

Let’s talk first about the guns and body armor. Anyone who has been stopped for a burned-out taillight in the last 10 years knows that law enforcement officers wear body armor while on duty. Period. Apparently the governor does not notice the bulky torsos of his Alaska State Trooper bodyguards, as the troopers adopted this policy long before most local police departments did. The same thing applies to agency law-enforcement personnel -- U.S. Forest Service, EPA, etc.

I searched the press releases issued by Gov. Parnell since he took office. I found six occasions when he has ordered flags flown at half-mast for state employees killed in the line of duty. This included the week-long lowering of flags for, "Peace Officers Memorial Day" and "Law Enforcement Memorial Week." His April 14 proclamation included this line:

WHEREAS, we pay tribute to the 65 Alaskan heroes who have laid down their lives in the pursuit of a safer, more just society....

I guess he is OK with mourning them when they are shot, but not with preventing their deaths.

So what about the investigation of possible water pollution by placer mining operations? Is that an "outrage" too? Abatement of water pollution violations is presently rated as a "core service" by Gov. Parnell’s Office of Management and Budget.

And guess who signed the current regulations that bring Alaska’s DEC enforcement in line with the federal Clean Water Act standards? Then-Lt. Gov. Parnell. See Section 18 of Alaska Administrative Code 83.010.

OK, well, maybe the governor will concede that controlling pollution of salmon streams is a good idea, but limits his objection in a Sept. 5 press release to occasions when the regulators "swoop in on unsuspecting miners in remote Alaska" and do so without ample public notice to the governor’s cabinet.

Two questions here: Do we criticize Fish and Wildlife Troopers for checking crab boats for undersized crab without calling ahead to say they are coming? And does the governor’s office need to hear in advance that state and federal employees are doing their routine chores -- e.g. taking water samples near possible pollution sources?

I certainly join the governor in mourning the passing of the good ol’ days -- when miners would boldly dump tailings into the nearest passing stream, and could be trusted to continue to do so, even if they knew some city boys were coming upriver for a visit. Maybe you could issue a proclamation returning us to this "honor system," eh governor?

And don’t get me wrong, I am a bit intimidated too when an armed/armored person approaches my car to check out why my turn signal isn’t working. But, sad to say, we are confronted with this on almost a daily basis. When "Officer Friendly" would drop in to visit when my kids attended the grade school in Sitka, he wore a kevlar vest and a variety of weaponry.

We all know that violence has not been a stranger in remote mining country in Alaska. So, governor, should we arm law enforcement officers when they share cookies with grade schoolers, but not when they are investigating possible criminal violations with miners in remote areas?

This is called "pandering" -- here, the governor is trying to get miners to think that he is on their side -- even though (one) his budgets for law enforcement have generously funded purchases of weapons and body armor, and (two) he is at least responsible for the regulations that are there to enforce.

Next thing you know, he’ll give the oil companies hundreds of millions of dollars per year as a tax break so that they will fund his upcoming campaign.

James McGowan has been practicing law in Alaska since 1977. Among other professional endeavors, he has represented numerous law enforcement officers and law enforcement organizations, in civil and criminal matters.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.