Andrew Jensen / Editorial

Scapegoating Webster is a setback for Cook Inlet

On April 8, a joint session of the Alaska Legislature confirmed 87 of 88 appointments put forth by Gov. Sean Parnell and rejected a third term for Board of Fisheries member Vince Webster by a single vote. Not that relations between commercial and sport stakeholders in Cook Inlet weren’t frosty prior to the vote, but the campaign waged against Bristol Bay setnetter Webster by the Kenai River Sportfishing Association is yet another chill to any hope of thawing the perpetual conflict now exacerbated by low returns of Kenai River kings. Never mind that the Board of Fisheries vote was 7-0 to adopt a new escapement goal range put forth by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game for Kenai kings based on new sonar counters, or that the same full board unanimously refused to adopt any new management measures at its statewide meeting in late March. In the days leading up to the vote on Parnell’s nominations, KRSA put out action alerts urging its supporters to call legislators to oppose Webster, blaming him for the failure of the Upper Cook Inlet Task Force to reach consensus on new management measures and for the adoption of the escapement goal KRSA did not support. Again, never mind that board member Tom Kluberton of Talkeetna co-chaired the task force along with Webster, or that Fairbanks sport guide Reed Morisky, who KRSA backed for the board earlier this year when Bill Brown of Juneau resigned before his term was up, also voted for the ADFG recommendation. It really makes no sense to allege Webster — who as a commercial fishermen is in the minority on the board — is some kind of diabolical mastermind able to lead the other six members around by the nose all the while acting in bad faith and conspiring with some 16 or so ADFG scientists to come up with a questionable escapement goal. KRSA directed no blame at any other members — Kluberton and Morisky were confirmed easily April 8 — or at board chairman Karl Johnstone, who is also strongly backed by the powerful sportfishing lobby group. The thought here is that Parnell said it best in a statement: “It is disappointing, discouraging and disheartening when bad information or politics prevent a qualified Alaskan from serving our state.” It most certainly is, and the 30 legislators gullible or susceptible enough to fall for KRSA’s talking points about Webster should take a hard look at the composition of the Board of Fisheries they just created with just one member from Southeast — commercial fishermen John Jensen from Petersburg (no relation to this writer) — and nobody from Alaska’s best-known fishery in Bristol Bay. The current composition of the board is now tremendously out of whack with four members bearing the KRSA stamp of approval and just two — Jensen and Sue Jeffery of Kodiak — with commercial fishing experience. Despite all the clamor from legislators alleging an ADFG bias in favor of commercial fishing, Cook Inlet setnetters — who lost out on more than 90 percent of their typical harvest due to king salmon conservation closures in 2012 — have continually seen their fishing time and opportunity eroded by management decisions by the board to put additional kings as well as sockeyes into the rivers. After the 2011 regular Cook Inlet board meeting, Johnstone said the allocative decisions pushed by KRSA made at that meeting, including the shift in harvest away from setnetters to the drift fleet and to in-river users, were worth, “millions of dollars” in some cases. With that kind of money at stake, it is ridiculous to hold Webster accountable for the failure of a task force with no regulatory authority to broker a compromise between users with hardened positions, especially when the KRSA proposal was to restrict setnetters to just two, 12-hour fishing periods per week from July 1 to Aug. 10 when king salmon escapement is projected to be as high as 22,000 fish. KRSA might as well hold Moses responsible for not working things out between the Egyptians and the Jews. The East Side setnetters have fished the Inlet for a century, legally harvesting and selling king salmon all the while. That’s what made an amendment offered up by Rep. Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak, to a House resolution such a poison pill and illustrative of the sort of misinformation that makes difficult fisheries decisions nearly impossible. In his amendment to a resolution intended for the North Pacific Fishery Management Council requesting reductions in Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska king salmon bycatch, Stoltze singled out the Cook Inlet setnetters as having king salmon “bycatch” in their fishery. To be clear: When a Cook Inlet setnetter catches a king, that is a legal harvest. When a pollock trawler catches a king, that is a prohibited species catch, a.k.a. bycatch. Calling king salmon harvest by setnetters bycatch is not only technically wrong, it is, frankly, offensive to fishermen who’ve been setting their nets at the same sites for generations without a negative impact on Cook Inlet kings. Parnell will have to make another appointment to the board to fill Webster’s seat, and based on standard practice he will have to nominate someone from the commercial sector. At this point, finding a good candidate to fill the seat may be difficult when they could be subjected to the same sort of unfair and personal attacks leveled against Webster for the privilege of sitting on a board where they are in a minority to KRSA-backed members who are held to a different level of accountability. Maybe that’s what the Kenai River Sportfishing Association is really after. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]  

Congratulating the best and brightest of Alaska

As the managing editor of the Journal for a little less than a year, I can say with certainty that no project undertaken over that time can compare with choosing our annual Top Forty Under 40 class. I can also say with equal certainty that no other project has been as rewarding. When you spend all day buried up to your neck in the news, it can be easy to become cynical or pessimistic with a still-sluggish economy five years after Bear Stearns collapsed, an overbearing and over-regulating federal government, unsustainable national debt, a Congress paralyzed by partisanship, and daily human tragedies both domestic and abroad. While those concerns have not abated, nothing has done more to restore a personal sense of optimism about the future than reading the 200 nominations covering some 500 pages about more than 140 individual Alaskans whose family, friends and clients felt were worthy of consideration for the Top Forty Under 40 honor. Among their stories were those who have overcome deep personal tragedy, who have made their businesses succeed in spite of these recent five years of economic uncertainty, who are making the public sector work more efficiently and who give so much of themselves to help the less fortunate. With a third of our state economy dependent on federal funding and two-thirds of our lands subject to the jurisdiction of Washington, D.C., many times Alaskans will rightly complain that parts of our destiny are out of our control. One thing you will not find in the Top Forty Under 40 magazine inserted into this edition is anyone who is letting outside forces guide his or her path, but who instead are making their own destinies — and at the same time improving the future of this great state.  Outside of one glaring typo that I will leave to you, our eagle-eyed readers, to discover, I cannot be more proud of this publication. For the first time we have full color, glossy stock from cover to cover along with 40 professional portraits. It is a publication truly worthy of the people who are being honored. You may also notice some people wrote a little more about themselves than others, and some are a little more comfortable in front of a camera. That’s natural, and reflects the diverse group of people who were selected. (As a side note, I will remember next year to give the winners an overall word count for their survey responses. Because we asked more personalized questions this year than the past, it was very difficult to edit some of the amazing responses we received to the survey. We ended up getting everyone to less than 1,000 words, with some needing to continue at the back of the publication.) We are happy to have a strong contingent from the Interior — eight honorees from Fairbanks and North Pole along with four other UA Fairbanks alums — and a pair from Southeast. We truly want this to be a statewide honor and hope to have an even greater number of nominations next year from the Valley, the Peninsula, the Panhandle and rural Alaska. On a final personal note, the best part about the project was notifying the winners. As you may guess, people are not always happy to receive a call from the news media. But for at least a day, everyone I called was glad to hear from me. And in the process, I realized how much this honor means to our fellow Alaskans. It was a humbling experience, and a true motivation to do our best to serve you. So congratulations to you, our Top Forty Under 40 winners for 2013. You have inspired us much more than we could ever honor you. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]  

EPA study is shoddy, sloppy, biased

Roy Stein is no fan of the Pebble mine. Stein, a fisheries scientist from pretentiously prefixed “The” Ohio State University, penned a recent report describing arguments of mine developers and responsible resource development advocates as “specious,” “disingenuous” and “indefensible,” in addition to calling the prospect of other mines around Pebble “insidious.” Such rhetoric from the opponents of Pebble is hardly uncommon, and anything but newsworthy on its own. Stein, however, isn’t a typical Pebble opponent. Stein was not only a member of the peer review panel that examined the Environmental Protection Agency assessment of potential impacts from mining in the Bristol Bay watershed, he was also the chairman. While Stein was tasked with reviewing the quality of the EPA assessment, he instead used much of his peer review as an emotional diatribe against the Pebble developers and permitting process advocates, and pronounced himself more of a cynic than a skeptic when it comes to the regulatory system. To be sure, many of the reviewers stated that the EPA underestimated risks from mining to wildlife, flora, fauna, fish species other than salmon and human users other than Alaska Natives. But equally sure is that this was hardly a ringing endorsement of the agency’s work. Among the 12 peer reviews, Stein’s stood out not only for its lack of objectivity or attention to the assigned task, but for his eagerness to spout off on subjects for which he himself repeatedly wrote he had no expertise. Rather than critique the EPA work, as he was paid by our tax dollars to do, Stein actually offered advice to the government on how to counter mining company arguments. Referencing the position of mining proponents that failures at old mines cannot be applied directly to risks at Pebble because new technology and best practices will be applied, Stein wrote: “In my view, this is a specious argument and one that should be roundly put to bed by the authors.” At one point in his review, Stein showed he was not aware of reclamation bonding, and at another point suggested that Alaska Natives have “surely” been negatively affected by development, writing “perhaps the Fraser River?” It is a serious enough problem that someone came to chair a peer review panel on mining impacts in Alaska without knowing what a reclamation bond is or even that the Fraser River is in Canada, but what is more troubling than Stein’s lack of basic knowledge and professionalism is how the EPA is incorporating his review into its continuing work on the Bristol Bay assessment that it now says will be used to inform the agency’s options under the Clean Water Act. In its “Summary of Key Recommendations from Peer Reviewers,” the EPA placed heavy emphasis on Stein’s comments (without attributing them to him) to the exclusion of far more substantive and insightful statements from other peer reviewers. This was most obvious under the section for technical content revisions to the hypothetical mine scenario used in the assessment. The hypothetical mine was criticized on several fronts by multiple reviewers, yet four of the six bullet pointed “recommendations” highlighted by the EPA came straight from Stein’s review despite his admitted lack of experience in mine engineering, management or reclamation. The EPA grudgingly included the recommendation that it needs a more thorough discussion of what are best mining practices — this after asserting in the Executive Summary that its hypothetical mine reflected “best” practices but in the actual assessment described them as “good, but not necessarily best” practices. Not content to simply take its medicine from the reviewers and move on, the EPA then incorporated Stein’s assertion that “without a track record of ‘best’ practices, we cannot assume that technology, by itself without appropriate operational management controls, can always mitigate risk.” Nowhere did the EPA highlight the problems with the mine scenario raised by Dirk van Zyl, a mining engineering professor at the University of British Columbia. Van Zyl noted the scenarios for waste rock management were entirely inconsistent (at one point saying waste rock would be stored in open pit, at anther saying waste rock would be milled and placed in the tailings storage facility); its water balance calculations were incorrect; and that EPA stated non-acid generating rock will require wastewater treatment in perpetuity. “If all the (possible acid generating) material will be removed from the surface, as stated in the scenario in Chapter 4, and all the (non-acid generating) will not generate acid drainage, then it is difficult to understand why the waste rock piles and waste rock used for construction would be the major source of ‘routinely generated wastewater,’” van Zyl wrote. Van Zyl, as a mining expert, could be expected to be more critical of the EPA mining scenario, but he wasn’t alone among his peer reviewers. William Stubblefield, Oregon State University, toxicology expert: “Although interesting, the potential reality of the assessment is somewhat questionable. It is also unclear why the EPA undertook this evaluation, given that a more realistic assessment could probably have been conducted once an actual mine was proposed and greater detail about operational parameters available.” Phyllis Weber Scannell, Scannell Scientific Services, fish biology: “Some of the assumptions appear to be somewhat inconsistent with mines in Alaska. In particular, the descriptions of effects on stream flows from dewatering and water use do not account for recycling process water, bypassing clean water around the project, or treating and discharging collected water.” John Stednick, Colorado State University, watersheds: “A large tailings storage facility failure compared to a blocked road drainage culvert. The level of detail in the assessment of the potential system failures varies considerably and baits the question — why? Does this demonstrate lack of understanding of failure prediction, lack of failure prediction, or writing team expertise?” Stubblefield also noted the elementary findings of the risk assessment for multiple mines: “Short of concluding that ‘failures at one mine could be bad, and failures at multiple mines could be worse,’ little else could be concluded.” A number of reviewers observed that the EPA was using logging road impact studies from the 1970s to characterize risks from a mine transportation corridor, that it was using oil and diesel pipelines as a substitute for risk assessment of a slurry concentrate pipeline (while not, strangely, evaluating risks posed by actual diesel transport pipelines that could be in place) and there was unanimous sentiment to not use the Mt. St. Helens eruption as an analogy to a tailings dam failure. Even Stein, the unabashed cheerleader for the EPA effort, said the agency was on “tenuous” ground in assessing risk based on the high level of uncertainty throughout the report. I’d hope the EPA was at least somewhat embarrassed to include among its recommendations — based on consensus among its reviewers — that it must clarify the purpose of the document and rewrite the Executive Summary so that it matches the content of the report. Let’s face it: something is wrong when two main recommendations from a peer review are to define the purpose and make the Executive Summary reflect the actual results of the study. Two Stein comments that were showcased by the EPA, though, are so far short of the scientific rigor the agency claims it adheres to that they must be exposed. Under the technical content revision peer reviewer recommendations for risk to salmonids, the EPA writes under the first bullet point to “reflect on the non-linear nature of the relationship between habitat at salmon production; 5% of the habitat could be critical and thus responsible for 20% or more of salmon recruitment.” Here is what Stein wrote: “This exercise also will serve to counter the argument by the mining company that they are only destroying some small percentage of salmon habitat and hence … only some very small percentage of salmon. Because losing 2% of critical headwaters may translate to huge losses of salmon (say 20%), one cannot simply assume a linear relationship between habitat and salmon.” So, Stein pulls the 20 percent number out of his, um, hat, and the EPA blithely places it into the highlighted recommendations of peer reviewers as if that number is based on actual data. The second bullet point under risks to salmonids states: “Include a section on the impact of Global Climate Change with explicit reference to a monitoring program that will allow scientists, if the mine is built, to distinguish between effects of climate change and mining effects on the physical and biological components of the ecosystem.” Here is what Stein wrote: “My concern is that if the mine is built, all negative impacts of the mine on salmonids, etc., could be attributed to Global Climate Change rather than the true culprit which would be the mining activities.” It was natural that Stein’s climate change preoccupation and anti-Pebble attitude found a receptive audience and prominent inclusion in the peer review summary from the EPA assessment lead manager Richard Parkin of Region 10 in Seattle. Parkin also leads environmental justice efforts for EPA Region 10 and has had addressing Pebble on his to-do list since at least 2008. Back in 2000, Parkin wrote a letter to the Department of Transportation finding fault with a draft environmental impact statement for a highway bypass in Issaquah, Wash.,, because the EIS didn’t include “the proposed project’s contribution to the serious problem of global warming.” “As a transportation solution, the bypass offers no means to lessen or curtail the use of POVs (privately owned vehicles), consequently any emissions of greenhouse gases anticipated from easing congestion on Front Street will be more than offset by increasing vehicle miles traveled” resulting from increased vehicle capacity and “no incentives” to change travel behavior, Parkin wrote. If Parkin doesn’t believe that something as simple as a highway bypass can be built without destroying the planet, it is not an unreasonable conclusion that he is looking far from objectively at the Pebble prospect. Parkin and Stein would certainly have that in common, and based on the presentation of peer review recommendations it is clear the only thing “insidious” going on here is the EPA attempt to convince us that it is engaging in a fair process. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

Sit, Hollis! Bad senator!

A recent campaign ad run by state Sen. Hollis French comparing oil companies to his dog pretty much sums up everything that’s been wrong with the discussion over reforming Alaska’s oil taxes for the last two years. “One thing I’ve learned is that you don’t give treats before she sits or stays,” French says. “Tax breaks for oil companies should be the same way.” French continues, “They should invest in jobs and new production first, then they can have a reward.” Forget the insulting nature of the ad and the fundamental unseriousness of it. Not to put too fine a point on it, but French’s argument is just plain ignorant. The Senate majority and its frontmen French and Sen. Bill Wielechowski are fond of putting out press releases touting the supposedly business friendly tax climate of Alaska, without, it seems, any awareness of the fact that oil tax revenue is the reason tax burdens on every other type of business are so low. They also seem not to be aware, or choose to conveniently ignore, the annual Fraser Institute oil tax rankings based on industry surveys that consistently place Alaska’s onshore regime at the bottom of North America jurisdictions. Perhaps they also missed the Oct. 23 story by the Associated Press reporting that the United States is on track to become the world’s No. 1 oil and gas producer before the end of this decade. What was conspicuously absent from the article? In 1,200 words, the word “Alaska” was nowhere to be found. The word “Alaskan” was present a single time, referring to booming production years from the Prudhoe Bay fields in the mid-1980s when the U.S. was producing about 11.2 million barrels of oil and gas liquids per day. Here is the key paragraph from the article: “A long period of high oil prices has given drillers the cash and the motivation to spend the large sums required to develop new techniques and search new places for oil. Over the past decade, oil has averaged $69 a barrel. During the previous decade, it averaged $21.” There is a simple and regrettable fact to be taken from the AP report. Since enacting ACES in 2007, Alaska has missed out on more than a half-decade of the capital investment boom in oil production. While oil companies are investing billions upon billions in the U.S. and around the world, throughput in the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System has continued to decline despite oil producers having — theoretically — the price incentive to do more. Unfortunately, the producers also have an incredible disincentive to produce more thanks to a ridiculously uncompetitive tax structure and a legislature that thinks of them as a pet to be commanded to beg and roll over. It’s a shame that this attitude has even trickled into the campaign of Bob Roses, the Republican running against Wielechowski. In his latest radio spot, Roses, too, asserts that he won’t support tax reform until production increases first. As French begs for his “treats” in the form of votes, perhaps he should first perform a trick by oh, I don’t know, actually doing something other than making silly arguments and defending the unsustainable status quo caused by declining production and burgeoning budgets. What the state is doing to the oil companies is actually no different than overfishing, a practice Alaskans understand well as one of the catalyzing forces behind statehood. When a resource is in decline, as North Slope production is today, you don’t take as much of it as you can before it runs out. That’s exactly what ACES does. Rather than encouraging companies to sustain and grow production, the state is greedily taking as much as possible while it can and robbing the companies of the capital they need to invest in increased production. As the owner of two dogs, I can sympathize with French’s effort to conflate human behavior with that of his cute black lab Allie. Also like most pet owners, that sort of feeling usually ends right about the time my dogs start sniffing the same kind of stuff that French is shoveling. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

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