|Of the many challenges facing incoming governor Sean Parnell, one of the most important is adopting a more progressive environmental policy for Alaska. It is time for Alaska to move beyond the corporate determinism and short-term, get-it-while-you-can ideologies that have co-opted state government in the past, and redirect development toward a sustainable future.
Here are some things Gov. Parnell might consider:
Climate Change: With Alaska at ground zero in the climate crisis, we can no longer afford feigned uncertainties and government inertia. Alaska needs to get serious about this issue, and fast.
Gov. Parnell should create an Alaska Office on Climate Change to facilitate state efforts to address this threat (a "sub-cabinet" just isn't enough). He should establish an Alaska Climate Response Fund from a nominal tax on hydrocarbon production, set aggressive emissions reduction targets in-state, and increase investment in energy efficiency and alternative energy resources -- wind, wave, geothermal. And, the administration needs to aggressively engage efforts to reduce global carbon emissions, including the Copenhagen climate talks this December.
Endangered Species: Alaska already has 20 species on the federal threatened and endangered species list, and there will be more. Gov. Parnell should abandon the state's tradition of denying the problem, be honest and transparent with the science, and take steps to help species recover. He should drop the state's ill-conceived lawsuits over the federal listing of polar bears and Cook Inlet belugas, support listing for other arctic marine species threatened by reduced sea ice, and adapt development proposals accordingly.
Arctic Policy: As the nation's only Arctic state, Alaska has a special responsibility to work with the federal government and other Arctic nations in securing an environmentally sustainable Arctic. Development of Arctic hydrocarbons, mining, shipping, tourism, and fisheries all present formidable challenges. Arctic development must only be done with the highest environmental safeguards, and if a project is too risky, the governor should oppose it. He should embrace Sen. Mark Begich's proposed Arctic Regional Citizens Advisory Council to give indigenous peoples a more active voice in Arctic development, onshore and offshore.
Wildlife Management: Gov. Parnell should appoint members to the Board of Game that reflect the diversity of public interests in wildlife, including non-hunters. He should ensure a rural subsistence priority, require rigorous scientific peer-review of all state management proposals, and establish no-take buffer zones on state lands around national parks (e.g. Denali) to support park management objectives in these boundary areas. And, the state's predator control program should be terminated, as it has little scientific justification and is a national disgrace.
Protected Areas: Gov. Parnell should embrace the need for new protected areas -- parks, refuges, and sanctuaries. He should revive the effort to identify and establish new Marine Protected Areas in Alaska's rich but threatened offshore ecosystems. And he should work with, not against, federal agencies to better protect Alaska's federal lands.
Resource Development Policy: The Parnell administration should heed the emerging global consensus on environmental responsibility. This will mean saying "no" to some projects, and for others ensuring that the best available technology and the most stringent government oversight are applied. State government should seek to maximize the positive and minimize the negative aspects of resource development. Logging, mining, oil and gas drilling, and commercial fishing need to be consistent with 21st century environmentalism.
Sean Parnell has been given a chance to show Alaskans, the nation, and the world that Alaska is indeed open for business, but only for green business, where environmental protection is a sacrosanct responsibility, not a burden. He should not demonize Alaska's environmentalists, the federal government, or "outsiders," but engage and listen to them.
Gov. Jay Hammond used to judge resource development proposals by three criteria: do most people want it, can it pay for itself, and is it environmentally sound. Gov. Parnell would be well advised to adopt this time-tempered wisdom, and bring a new -- or perhaps old -- environmental sensibility to economic development on the last frontier.
Rick Steiner is a professor and conservation specialist at the University of Alaska Anchorage.