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Week of August 26, 2012
Providing coverage of Alaska and Northwest Canada's mineral industry

Mining News: Where were you when the lights went out?

In 2010, the state senate coalition blocked changes to the Coastal Zone Management Program, now we must address the consequences

J. P. Tangen

For Mining News

Perhaps it’s just me, but this year’s election cycle seems to have an uncharacteristically high level of venom and spleen, at least at the national level. The words “hate” and “liar” seem to have all of a sudden become politically correct in a macabre kind of way. We in Alaska, however, are going to have to watch from the sidelines due to the fact that there is no U. S. Senate race here and with our mere three electoral votes, we simply are not going to be a feather in the wind of the Presidential race. Instead, we will have to content ourselves with the races for the state Legislature. Those races will make the biggest difference to us, at least within the realm of the things we can influence.

Prior to the primary election on Aug. 28, it will be a little hard to handicap the make-up of the next legislature and, even with redistricting, there are only a handful of races that probably are in play. Of course, Ballot Measure 2 is a big deal to those in the resource development industry. If passed it would create a new coastal management authority that will literally hand over the authority for all new resource development projects in the state to a nine-member board drawn, in significant part, from rural communities. These folks would be charged with giving the go-ahead or blocking any given project. The “coastal zone” is a ginormous area, and a project does not have to be near any coast for any warm body opposed to a project to ask the board to stop it.

The original coastal zone management program saw the sun set on it a little over a year ago, primarily because our august state Senate could not see fit to pass an extension. The old program had its problems and some revisions were in order to make it functional, but the coalition-bound Senate could not find common ground with the version that the state House of Representatives passed, so the programs was allowed to die. The new program to be created by Ballot Measure 2, is dissimilar in virtually every way from the former program and will create a devastating burden, if not a complete barrier, to new mining projects throughout the state.

So now the electorate gets to confront the result. If you are a miner or in any way associated with the mining industry, you literally have to vote “NO” next Tuesday. Your future depends on it.

As a doomsayer from way back, I have watched time and again as the opponents of mining in Alaska hurl grenades our way. The present, high-profile skirmishes are simply retreads of those that we have fielded before. Whether we are talking of ANILCA or the Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment, the assaults are unrelenting.

Mining is Alaska’s long-term hope for the future. In a few short years we will experience a temporary boom as we begin the reclamation process for the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, but after that there will be few opportunities to look forward to. Once the pipeline is gone and the oil boom is over, mining will be the last faint hope for the experiment that we call Alaska.

One tidbit that always crosses my field of vision at this point in the election cycle is how few Alaskans there are that actually step up to the plate with their dollars. The Alaska Miners Association Political Action Committee (AMAPAC) spends 22 out of every 24 months soliciting funds and waiting for the results of the primary election to be made public. Then, just before the election, it tries to make meaningful contributions to the campaigns of those who support the industry with the hope that it can head off having to fight initiatives like Ballot Measure 2. Because AMAPAC and its allies were not able to break up the Senate coalition in 2010, the Alaska Miners Association felt compelled to be one of the primary supporters of the opposition to this initiative. In effect, supporters of the mining industry made an unconscious choice. By failing to change the composition of the state Senate two years ago, the AMA wound up having to spend more than $100 per member to fight Ballot Measure 2, in 2012. Money derived primarily from the annual dues of individual members.

In an era where people seem to know little about money, where it comes from and where it goes, perhaps there is a small measure of utility in being a scold.

Ladies and gentlemen, the folks who know little and like less about the mining industry are about to have their way. If they don’t get Ballot Measure 2 passed, there is still every reason to believe the coalition will carry on. Now is the time to support your candidates financially, and above all, vote against Ballot Measure 2.

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