The Bush administration is thinking about reversing federal policy in place since the Exxon Valdez disaster to allow oil and gas exploration in Alaska's Bristol Bay. I know, you're thinking that this is another dog-bites-man tale. Well, yes, but as always there are particular parts of the story that set it apart.
The bay, which lies between the northern shore of the Aleutian peninsula and the Alaska mainland, is the main habitat of the sockeye salmon, as well as of the endangered northern right whale.
Bristol Bay is known for its gradual shelving bottom, which means that fishing boats need shallow draft to work inshore. It is also known for its fierce wind and wave conditions; together with the topography, that makes fishing extremely dangerous. Until 1952, it was illegal to fish the bay except under sail. Small Bristol Bay gilnetters, such as the one at the left worked the fishery. When I was in Astoria, Oregon, I met a man who had worked in that fishery. He told me that they would routinely fish until the wind got up to 40 knots or so (about 47 mph). That was no tropical breeze, either.
Do we really need to explore for gas and oil in such unforgiving conditions, especially when an accident or oversight could have catastrophic consequences for an important resource? And why are we even talking about doing that when the nation is doing so little to conserve energy? Because, of course, when the oil industry comes calling at this White House, the welcome mat is always out.
Just another reminder that January 20, 2009 cannot come quickly enough!