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Proposition 1 took government out of the hands of the people

Posted: Monday, November 15, 2004

Recently voters passed Proposition 1 by a narrow margin. This proposition made it more difficult for a citizen to get an issue before the voters that the Legislature wouldn't address. One of the rationales behind the proposition was that voters should leave natural resource management issues to the people who understand the issues. I think this thinking is flawed.

If our state truly allowed natural resource administrators to make rules and change standards without political influence then this argument would be sound. One only has to look at our fishery management decisions, or the lack of commentary on NPDES permits, to know that political pressure rules policy. Where are the voices of resource management when Fish and Wildlife and Fish and Game are silent on commentary about wastewater discharges into our waters?

Our politicians are influenced far more by lobbyists than by the individual citizen. Industry wants exemptions to our state water quality standards so they can have a cheap dumping ground. This has nothing to do with sound natural resource management decisions and everything to do with saving industry money. It is also a policy that costs the state of Alaska and its people renewable resources when the industry is gone.

DEC recently proposed allowing mixing zones for hazardous wastes in our salmon bearing streams and rivers. Was this motivated by concern for the environment, or was it perhaps motivated by the fact that the proposed Pebble gold mine will need to dump it's acid cyanide-laced wastewater near two salmon bearing rivers? In Queensland, Australia, an abandoned open pit gold mine called the Mount Morgan mine leaves a legacy of no living submerged plant or fish in areas within 20 km downstream from mine drainage. A study also showed "all the major components of the river's aquatic biota were adversely affected by acid mine drainage."

In 1998, Montana citizens concerned over open pit gold mining tearing up the earth and leaching wastes into their fishing river placed a proposition before the voters. This proposition stated that it was illegal to dump any hazardous wastes into fish bearing rivers. The ballot proposition would never have been voted on if citizens relied on their legislature. It passed 52-48. A recent poll of Helena voters showed that 64 percent of voters favored keeping the ban on waste dumping in their river. That's what a democratic process is about. We are more capable of deciding our resource issues than an industry lobbyist is.

Betty Whittenberg, Soldotna



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