Sen. Dan Sullivan gave a keynote speech at the Fall Alaska Association of Student Governments Conference hosted by Palmer High School.
Sullivan touched on many subjects throughout his speech. He informed the delegation on current issues on the table in the Senate right now, like his bill titled the Save Our Seas Act 2.0. Sullivan said it passed through both the Environment and Public Works Committee and the Foreign Relations Committee unanimously.
“Estimates are that almost 70 percent of all the pollution and plastics in the oceans in the world come from 10 rivers in six countries in Asia,” Sullivan said. “We are going to clean up our oceans.”
A study published by the American Chemical Society Publications found that eight of 10 highest plastic-waste polluting rivers come from Asian countries, six of which come from China. Most of that waste ends up flowing within the currents in the Pacific Ocean and can end up on Alaska’s shores.
Another topic Sullivan addressed was the need for diversifying Alaska’s economy.
“We need a stronger economy and the way we need to do that is we need to help diversify it,” Sullivan said.
After his speech, Sullivan said he has advocated for a full exemption of the Roadless Rule in the Tongass National Forest to stimulate the economy of the Southeast and Alaska. Sullivan said that not allowing road construction limits industries from developing like “timber or hydro[electric] or ecotourism,” since they cannot access resources, transport workers, etc.
“I’ve always been what I call ‘an all of the above energy proponent,” Sullivan said. “Different regions of the state have different opportunities that they can take advantage of.”
Linnea Lentfer, a junior representing Juneau-Douglas High School, believes that the preservation of the Tongass outweighs the economic benefits drawn from it.
“There’s a lot of examples of error in development that have been at great cost to ecosystems and groups of people,” Lentfer said., “Exxon-Valdez [oil spill] being one of those things.”
Lentfer’s environmental concerns were shard with many delegates at the AASG conference. Three resolutions related to mitigating climate change’s negative impact on the environment. One resolution supported the initiative of creating a Global Eco Corps under the United Nations which passed the AASG general assembly unanimously. Another resolution aimed to transition the Haines Borough heating source from “heating oil to biomass heating.” The third resolution used the environmental benefits to argue that industrial red meat should be excluded from school lunches on the basis that beef requires too many resources compared to healthier options. The resolution however failed in the general assembly but gained considerable support.
Sullivan expressed that he wants to incorporate alternative energy development into the idea of diversifying Alaska’s economy.
“We still need to develop our resources, but we need to diversify and then expand into other areas,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan then used Kodiak as an example of how they run off “almost completely renewable energy.” He believes renewable energy development is part of the goal to diversify Alaska’s economy, the other part being oil. Sullivan said that oil is important to Alaska’s economy.
“Which place in the world has the highest standards in the world for producing energy? Alaska. Right here,” Sullivan said.
He extended that claim to the rationale for supporting a full exemption of the Tongass from the Roadless Rule, which Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Rep. Don Young also support. Former Governor Bill Walker also supported the exemption and submitted a petition in January of 2018 to the United State Department of Agriculture to consider the exemption. This petition gained support after back-and-forth exemptions and repeals and overruling concerning Alaska since the implementation of the rule by President Bill Clinton in 2001.
From the Alaska Roadless Rule Citizen Advisory Committee final report from November of 2018 it read, “communities in Alaska often balance a fine line between maintaining the characteristics that they value and… conserving the resources they use and depend on, while also ensuring economic development and opportunities for employment, economic activity, healthcare, safety, and connections with other communities.”
Both Alaskans in AASG and in the Senate grapple where that fine line stands.
Currently the USDA is open for public comment on a proposed Alaska Roadless Rule and a variety of alternatives for roadless management.
Anthony Jones is a senior at Mat-Su Career and Technical High School and is a Frontiersman intern for the 2019-20 school year.