Appointing the fox to guard the henhouse

Appointing Jason Brune, the former executive director of the Resource Development Council and previously the public face for the Pebble Mine, to be the commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation, is wrong on multiple levels. It also appears to be a page out of President Donald Trump’s playbook – appoint lobbyists who do not believe in the mission of the agency.

As noted in a recent article in the Anchorage Daily News, Mr. Brune describes his personal environmental ethic as “think globally, develop locally,” which he explained to lawmakers as the idea that resource development will inevitably happen, so it should happen in places with strict environmental controls, such as Alaska. The first fundamental error in this thinking is that it’s not an either-or question about where development will occur. If the economics are right, the development will happen elsewhere as well as in Alaska. There is no global trade-off. The second and more serious error is the touted assumption that Alaska has strict environmental controls, when in fact Alaska has been consistently rolling back environmental safeguards since 2002, when former Sen. Frank Murkowski was governor. And the force behind all these rollbacks is the very organization that Mr. Brune represented – the Resource Development Council.

Under former Gov. Murkowski, the focus was on undermining the Habitat Division within the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Another rollback supported by the Resource Development Council was the abolition of wastewater standards for cruise ships that the Clean Water Initiative put in place. The Clean Water Initiative was passed by voters in 2010. Now the cruise ships are free to discharge waste under one general permit, and they can do so while docked in Southeast Alaska communities.

Next, the Resource Development Council, along with the Alaska Oil and Gas Association, focused its energy on eliminating the Alaska Coastal Management Program, or ACMP. This most notable rollback occurred in 2011 under Gov. Sean Parnell.

With the tide of environmental protection and concern waning, Alaska citizens then stepped up by gathering more than 30,000 signatures to put the question of restoring the ACMP on the ballot. The Alaska Oil and Gas Association, along with the Resource Development Council, financed and managed a $1.5 million media-dominated campaign to trounce the “Yes for Our Coast” effort; outspending the other side 12 to 1. The “No on 2” people also said that they were not against coastal management, just this particular voter initiative, and that they would seek to introduce legislation creating a coastal management program that fit Alaska better. That was 2012. The Resource Development Council has yet to deliver an alternative approach and as such, Alaska - with 33,900 miles of coastline - is now the only coastal state in the nation without any kind of coastal management program.

Does severely limiting the role of habitat biologists, undermining the Clean Water Initiative and eliminating the ACMP sound like strict environmental controls? Remember what started the Stand for Salmon ballot initiative, another protection proposal fiercely opposed by the Resource Development Council? It was the Board of Fisheries asking the Legislature to provide some tools for protecting salmon habitat when considering development projects. If Alaska had strict environmental controls with an adequate budget for monitoring and enforcement, the call for habitat protection would not have been necessary.

In the 1990s, Alaska had a functional, balanced environmental program. Thanks to organizations like the Resource Development Council, that is no longer the case, and for Commissioner Designee Brune to pretend otherwise is disingenuous. The ADEC commissioner whose charge is to safeguard Alaska’s water and air resources should be someone who has a track record in environmental management, not a former lobbyist for an organization committed to sustained environmental rollback.

As seen by Scott Pruitt’s record at the helm of the Environmental Protection Agency, having the fox guard the henhouse is not only purposefully counterproductive to the agency’s mission, but also undermines public trust in fairness and balance. With controversial projects like the Pebble Mine coming forward, Alaska deserves better than taking a page out of President Trump’s anti-environment playbook.

Kate Troll, a longtime Alaskan, has more than 22 years of experience in coastal management, fisheries and energy policy and is a former executive director for United Fishermen of Alaska and the Alaska Conservation Voters. She’s been elected to local office twice, written two books and resides in Douglas.

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