Face Off: Ballot Measure 1

Ballot Measure 1 is a no-brainer

By Robert Hockema

Corporate dollars and misinformation have hijacked the debate on the Stand for Salmon initiative.

By now, you’ve probably seen the army of No on 1 signs plastered all over roadsides and backyards. If you haven’t seen the signs, you’ve definitely heard the Stand for Alaska radio and TV ads. Unfortunately, the claims you’re hearing in those ads are wholly inaccurate and misleading.

Let’s set the record straight and talk about what the Stand for Salmon initiative actually does.

First and foremost, Ballot Measure One updates Alaska’s outdated habitat protection and permitting laws under Title 16. As it stands, there is no specified language limiting the amount of damage a project can have to a fish habitat. So long as a project ensures the “proper protection of fish and game”, Alaska Fish and Game has little room to deny a permit. The statute fails to define what “proper protection” looks like, and thus puts salmon habitats at risk — something the initiative fixes by adding scientific standards for habitat protection.

In response, the Stand for Alaska campaign has put forth dubious and misleading claims. Their campaign boasts that over 18 new federal and state policies have been updated since statehood. Though true, it ignores that the majority of those updates fail to protect salmon habitats with more specific language.

Laws like the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the Pacific Salmon Treaty all call for broad protections for open waters and streams. None of them give Fish and Game the power to deny a permit unless the project will undoubtedly destroy fish habitats.

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The problem is that mega projects like the Pebble Mine aren’t obvious threats to fish habitats. It takes careful research to understand how these projects pose a threat, which limits Fish and Game’s ability to hold them accountable until damage has already been done.

Additionally, the vast majority of updated protections are federal. It’s unclear whether those are likely to stick under the Trump administration’s crackdown on environmental law. For instance, the administration has began the process to open up ANWR, despite decades-long concerns that development will severely harm the surrounding environment. Under Trump, the Environmental Protection Agency has rolled back important federal protections, such as repealing Obama-era methane output rules, stripping air pollution limitations on coal fired power plants, and removing basic safeguards for marine environments.

The extensive list of regressive environmental policies makes clear that we can’t rely on the federal government to protect environmental law anymore. If there’s a pro-development interest in conflict with environmental protection, President Trump has made clear which of the two he’s more likely to prioritize. Federal hostility towards science and environmental protection makes Ballot Measure One more important now than ever.

Ballot Measure One also restructures the permitting system under Title 16 to differentiate between minor and major projects. The two-tiered system specifically excludes small project from the process, including building a house, hunting, and commercial fishing. For the remainder of projects, those that pose a minimal risk to salmon habitats — such as building a private dock — are streamlined under the minor permitting process. Major projects, like large dams and mines, are classified under the major permitting process.

The permitting system proposed in the initiative allows Fish and Game to carefully review the environmental impact of projects that have the potential to damage spawning locations or cause long-term harm to salmon habitats.

In the event of an environmental disaster, the initiative grants the state the authority to place financial liabilities on the corporations responsible for damages. This provides companies an incentive to design projects to be as safe and efficient as possible.

The detailed permitting system in the initiative defeats the bad-faith arguments about job loss coming from Stand for Alaska. The No campaign continues to perpetuate misinformation by claiming that the initiative will shut down development projects, increase operating costs, and cost Alaska tens of thousands of jobs.

This is simply untrue. The initiative accounts for this by making sure small projects don’t get caught up in unnecessary red tape, and creates reasonable standards for large projects to meet. Stand for Alaska seems to be forgetting that fishing provides over 30,000 jobs to Alaskans and generates over two billion dollars in economic activity each year.

The bottom line is this: if we continue to leave habitats unprotected, it could take decades to recover those loses. We should err on the side of caution and protect fish habitats over the interests of multinational corporations by voting Yes on Ballot Initiative One this November.


Vote ‘no’ on Ballot Measure 1

By Ben Edwards

Alaska Economy graphic

Ballot Measure 1 is a solution without a problem. The State of Alaska already has a compilation of regulations that are based on science rather than politics. Our current permitting process for projects on bodies of water is acutely effective for protecting our fish habitats. Additionally, that process is familiar and workable for Alaskans at all levels, from the individual landowner to the resource developer. Ballot Measure 1 will upset this efficient system by introducing a new barrage of complex regulations. If it passes, Alaskans will be forced to sacrifice key elements in the advancement of our economy and the welfare of our rural residents.

UAA students must recognize this hazard and vote no on Ballot Measure 1 on Nov. 6.

Opponents of Ballot Measure 1 are not anti-salmon. We absolutely recognize the importance of sustainable access to waterways for fish, as well as the robust protection of fish habitats. To suggest that we want to destabilize fish resources in the pursuit of irresponsible corporate profits is disingenuous. I recognize that the advocates for this new regulation, Stand for Salmon, have honest intentions.

But their proposal induces hardship on more than just big, corporate developers. It also bogs down small-scale projects that individuals or their communities might need to construct on a body of water. Such a project can be as small as a private dock, river crossing or a small suction dredge. Our great Native Corporations like Doyon Limited and Sealaska have urged a no vote as well, as they recognize how these new regulations will infringe on the welfare of their people.

Ballot Measure 1 divides the regulatory process between minor permits and major permits. Both are problematic. Even with the minor permitting process, Alaskans will be forced to pursue an expensive and lengthy engagement with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. It doesn’t matter if it’s an individual landowner trying to build a dock or a native community who has known how to use the land for generations. All will be required to jump through hoops to get their project approved. The Stand for Salmon campaign claims that minor permits will be processed quickly by ADF&G. But the government never does things quickly. With tens of thousands of existing waterways in Alaska, minor permit applications will collect dust on the overworked commissioner’s desk. ADF&G will have to dispatch an employee to verify that the body of water is not a fish habitat, which could take months to arrange if the project is in rural Alaska. Meanwhile, Alaskans are deprived of the means to improve their property and their livelihoods.

Individual Alaskans and rural communities can also get caught up in a major permit process, which will be significantly more difficult to acquire than a minor permit. Projects such as a culvert installation or a riverside bank restoration are all likely to require a major permit. If the individual or community does not have an army of lawyers and a mountain of cash on hand, then they can kiss their project goodbye. This could seriously affect the rural villages that need to address erosion and flooding challenges in a timely fashion.

Ballot Measure 1 also imposes hardship on companies by stalling or preventing their development projects with unfamiliar and vague regulations. It is tempting to demonize companies, but we should understand that they are the engines of our economy. They put paychecks in the wallets of Alaskan workers and tax revenue in the coffers of our state. The state already holds them accountable for environmental responsibility with the current regulatory framework.

What these companies ask for in return is consistency in that framework. The private sector invests time and effort trying to get all its ducks in a row, achieving regulatory expectations, reporting information to the state and adapting its business model to Alaska’s unique environment. Now Ballot Measure 1 is going to flip the table on those companies by unnecessarily changing the regulations. There is nothing the private sector hates more than a fickle regulatory atmosphere and vague language that could unintentionally land them into a criminal infraction. If they hate it enough, they may just decide to stop investing in Alaska.

The most controversial point in Ballot Measure 1 is the presumption that all naturally occurring, surface bodies of water are fish habitats if they are connected to anadromous waters elsewhere. This can be found in Section 3 (c)of the bill. No longer will a body of water be studied individually to determine if its a fish habitat, in which case the state can then designate it as a protected area. Alaska has more than 3 million lakes and 12,000 rivers that intertwine extensively, so you can see how unreasonable Section 3 (c) is.

Ballot Measure 1 effectively replaces the scientific process with a political one. Currently, biologists are the ones who nominate a body of water to the state’s protected habitat catalog. Ballot Measure 1 replaces the role of biologists with a political and unscientific presumption.

Even ADF&G doesn’t view a problem with its current salmon protection efforts. The department issued a FAQ sheet on Sep. 6 that clearly states that it “… believes the current permitting process effectively protects anadromous fish habitat.” Again, Ballot Measure 1 is trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist, while asking all Alaskans to make serious sacrifices in our welfare and prosperity. We do not have to view fish resources as incompatible with human development. Alaskans have been managing both for many decades. When Ballot Measure 1 appears on the Nov. 6 ballot, I urge you to vote “no.”