The mining newspaper for Alaska and Canada's North

Alaska is always on the receiving end

The older I get the more I realize that even if you think you know what is happening, you really don’t understand the situation

In my younger years, I was hornswoggled into believing in “truth, justice and the American way.” I had no idea how evil that “way” actually was. Later, as I progressed through high school, I was taught that “winning isn’t everything, it is the only thing.” In college I learned that “America is a nation of laws, not men (or even women).” By the time I got to law school, I had figured out that there are (at least) two sides to every story and that a competent lawyer was expected to be able to present the merits of either side.

In the early 1970’s, as a Captain in the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps, I was persuaded to defend soldiers accused of criminal offenses, which appointment lasted for as long as I was losing cases. Once I started winning, I was “promoted” to the prosecution.

In my youth I harbored notions about the wisdom of elders and the value of life’s lessons in the decision-making process. After forty-odd years practicing mining law in Alaska, however, I have reached the cynical conclusion that while two rights don’t make a wrong, three rights make a left.

In the first eighteen year of the 21st Century we have been blessed with three Presidents who have succeeded in little beyond making the Grand Canyon a metaphor for American politics. Each of the three was committed to bringing change to Washington. I foolishly conflated the concept of “change” with “improvement.”

With the election of GW Bush, there was hope that there would be a new millennium of domestic tranquility and economic prosperity; but due to the tragedy of Sept.11, 2001 a whole new look had to be taken at the world situation. As for economic prosperity, that train left the station and we weren’t on it.

2008 brought a whole new vision to national leadership. Barrack Obama was the kind of candidate who motivated a lot of people and provided a hope to participate meaningfully in the political process with someone with whom they could identify. Unfortunately, Obama’s lifting power was not adequate to the mission. His policies, to the extent that they touched mining or Alaska or mining in Alaska, which are the kinds of things I care about, simply seemed wanting. President Obama’s natural constituency flagged by the time we got to the 2016 election and his heir apparent was not popular enough to overcome the vagaries of Electoral College math, in which it doesn’t make nearly as much difference how many votes you get as where you get them.

Comes now the incumbent – a person who proves the adage that in America anyone (with enough money) can become President. Little that is positive can be said about President Trump, but in reality, at least for Alaska’s miners, he is doing some good.

Alaska has long suffered from absentee-landlord syndrome. The only time the folks who pursue their lifestyle inside the “Beltway” give us a thought is when they are trying to take something away. It may be a stretch to suggest that it is easy to understand how Alaska Natives feel about their land, but somehow there is a nexus between the vision of the Native community with regard to land use and ownership, and the Chechakos, in that it would be great if the folks in the District of Columbia would kindly leave us alone.

Two-thirds of the land in Alaska is federal and a large part of that is underlain with mineral resources. Some of the people who have come to this the “great land” would like the opportunity to develop a portion of those resources; however, the forces arrayed against us are ponderous.

It takes decades and tens of millions of dollars to bring a large mine into production in Alaska irrespective of the global demand for the commodity. Ironically, the burdens that confront large mines are also borne to some extent by more modest adventurers as well.

I recently attended a meeting addressing the requirements that a new gold mining venture on the Seward Peninsula would have to overcome in order to get its operating plan approved. The various laws with which the company must comply are not new, by any stretch. The regulators have been honing the same old swords, sometimes for fifty years; however, the bureaucratic bologna is as fresh and new as if it had been just pulled out of the brine.

President Trump during his campaign mumbled something about draining the swamp. Instead he has filled it with a different variety of monster. In 2016, a lot of us went to the polls to vote against someone. It seems to me that it would be a nice someday if someone would run for the White House whom we could all vote for. But I am older and apparently wiser, now. I can only hope that whoever is elected, when next we get the choice, will be gentle.


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