Alaska became a state partly because of salmon. It wasn’t just the famous fight over the use of fish traps and the increasing damage the fish traps were causing to Alaska’s wild salmon runs. It was also a fight over who got to fish, Alaskans or national and international canneries. One of the first actions by the new Alaska Legislature in 1959 was to abolish fish traps.1
That same concern is also embedded in the Alaska Constitution, which sets as a primary mandate,2 “It is the policy of the State to encourage the settlement of its land and the development of its resources by making them available for maximum use consistent with the public interest.”
But the Legislature’s implementation of that mandate is vague. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) is required to approve any resource extraction proposal near salmon streams unless the plans are, “insufficient for the proper protection of fish and game.”3
Stand for Salmon is an Alaska nonprofit that is trying to use the initiative process – citizen legislation – to fix Alaska’s lame and inadequate guidelines to ADF&G. Stand for Salmon believes that the current, vague “insufficient for the proper protection” doesn’t properly balance the risk of extraction of non-renewable resources with risks to Alaska’s renewable resources, and especially salmon.
Stand for Salmon submitted an initiative petition to Lt. Governor Byron Mallot. Relying on bad legal advice from the Department of Law, he rejected the Stand for Salmon initiative, claiming that it constituted an “appropriation,” which is prohibited for initiatives under the Alaska Constitution.
Stand for Salmon appealed the Lt. Governor’s decision to the Superior Court. Judge Mark Ridner, Monday morning, ruled that Lt. Governor Mallot had got it wrong, that the initiative wasn’t unconstitutional, and that the initiative process should go ahead. You can read Judge Rindner’s decision. Something called the Council of Alaska Producers – a consortium of mining companies, including Pebble Mine – filed a “friend of the court” brief against the initiative. Judge Rinder was pretty harsh discussing CAP’s arguments:
The proposition that any ballot initiative which would replace an existing statute is an unconstitutional repeal of an appropriation must be false if the constitutional right enact laws through initiatives is to mean anything. CAP has not provided, and likely cannot provide, any legal authority for this incredible proposition.
But that spanking is unlikely to keep CAP, and maybe not even the State of Alaska, from appealing Judge Rindner’s decision to the Alaska Supreme Court. Which is why the title to this blog post talks about Round I. 4
Salmon 1, Mining 0.
While the State of Alaska decides whether to appeal, Lt. Governor Mallot has been ordered to approve the initiative. The next step is for Stand for Salmon to collect signatures. If you are an Alaska voter, and get the chance, you should sign the petition to put the initiative on the ballot.
On to the next round.
- See generally, Naske and Slotnick, Alaska: A History,pp. 165-167. ↩
- Alaska Constitution, Article Eight, Section 1. ↩
- AS 41.14.170. ↩
- The Council of Alaska Producers attempted to intervene in the lawsuit. Judge Rindner denied the motion, but allowed CAP to file an amicus brief. WC expects CAP to try again to intervene, and if Judge Rindner still won’t let tham in as a party, ask the Alaska Supreme Court to allow CAP in to the case. ↩