AJOC EDITORIAL: Jewell delivers lump of coal to King Cove
The Dec. 23 announcement from Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to uphold the denial of a road between King Cove and Cold Bay couldn’t be less surprising.
The road, as you probably know, would pass through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge and provide King Cove residents with emergency land access to the all-weather airport at Cold Bay.
Former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar refused to reverse the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service denial of the road before he left office, but made a concession on the way out the door to allow a review of the decision by his successor, who in turn received the votes of both Alaska Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich on April 10.
Murkowski, you see, had threatened to use “every tool in the toolbox” to hold up Jewell’s nomination over Salazar’s decision to reject the road to Cold Bay. But she was placated with the promise of a review, and Jewell’s commitment to visit King Cove as part of that review.
This is our Year in Review issue, so here’s what I wrote back in February:
“We understand Murkowski, as one of the most collegial members of the Senate, will generally defer to Obama on nominations. We also understand Begich needs to stay in his party’s good graces even as he prepares for his 2014 re-election campaign here at home.
“But when you consider the ridiculous and life-threatening decision made by outgoing Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s department to deny the road from King Cove to Cold Bay, it’s hard to see where all this congeniality and deference has gotten Alaska.
“Murkowski may not want to sacrifice some of her moderate credentials by opposing Jewell, and Begich surely doesn’t want to risk a backlash from his party leadership. And yes, I’m sure Jewell will say all kinds of nice things about having an open mind about Alaska, blah, blah, blah.
“Such considerations are moot at this point, and we’ve heard all that claptrap before. It’s time to play hardball. Supporting Jewell or letting her nomination advance is bad for Alaska and our senators should be united in opposing her.”
It didn’t take Jewell long to live down to the expectations of her tenure. Barely a month after being confirmed she rejected out of hand a request by the State of Alaska to conduct new seismic exploration of ANWR despite a clear legal requirement to allow it.
Responding to the Interior Department’s hollow reasoning for denying the Alaska exploration plan, I wrote in a July editorial that it was but foreshadowing for what she would do on the King Cove road:
“But hey, at least our senators extracted a promise that Jewell would visit King Cove before giving her their confirmation vote. I’m sure that will make a huge difference before she goes back to D.C. and tells Alaskans to stick it again.”
Sure enough, Jewell told the Aleuts of the Alaska Peninsula and our Senate delegation that voted for her to stick it.
Murkowski on Dec. 23 called Jewell’s decision “heartless,” “a slap in the face,” and “offensive.” She also said she was “angered” and “disappointed.”
Begich weighed in as well, calling it “the same sad story — a federal agency that doesn’t listen to Alaskans.”
He at least acknowledged the predictability of Jewell’s action, calling it “disappointing but unfortunately not surprising.”
No, it isn’t surprising, and that’s why the concession on King Cove should have been secured before Jewell got a vote, and through the use of a “hold,” either Murkowski or Begich could have stopped her nomination until common sense prevailed over the radical environmentalists who don’t care a whit about Alaska Natives unless it fits their agenda.
On Pebble, they lean on Alaska Natives and the subsistence lifestyle to make their case against it. But when it comes to building a road through a reserve the residents know a lot more about than Lower 48 greenies, or fishing a pollock allocation in the Aleutians or drilling on the North Slope, these groups will make a defendant out of Alaska Natives just as quickly as they’ll go after Shell or ConocoPhillips.
Trading a confirmation vote for an empty visit wasn’t nearly enough given the leverage our delegation could have brought to bear.
Here’s a safe prediction for 2014: Jewell will never, ever make a decision regarding Alaska that goes against the wishes of the Democrats’ extremist environmental base.
So good luck, Shell, with those Arctic drilling plans in 2014.
This should serve as yet another lesson that the Obama administration cannot be trusted, and a reminder that the Senate role on executive nominations is to advise and consent, not to assent and concede.