As the Republican US Supreme Court is telling corporations they can now spend billions to influence elections under the guise of the First Amendment, those same corporations are doing their best right here in Alaska to stop those who dare stand up to them from exercising their First Amendment rights. And they are doing it with the assistance of our own Republican Governor Sean Parnell.
Is Governor Sean Parnell acting on behalf of the cruise ship industry to stay in their good graces and competitive with one of his challengers, Vice President of Holland America and Republican gubernatorial Candidate Ralph Samuels?
On December 23, Gershon Cohen received a letter from the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) welcoming him to the cruise ship wastewater treatment science advisory panel.
Few people are as qualified as Dr. Cohen. He has a master’s degree in molecular biology and a Ph.D. in environmental policy. In addition, for the past ten years, he has been working on wastewater discharge issues. His Ph.D. dissertation was on mixing zones and the Clean Water Act. Both his education and professional experience make him perfectly tailored for the advisory panel.
Initially, the DEC was excited to have his expertise on the panel. Their December letter stated, “I am very pleased to accept you as a member of the panel. The science advisory panel will benefit greatly from your experience with cruise ship wastewater regulation and legislation.”
The advisory panel is not a legislative branch. They make recommendations to the DEC on treatment options of wastewater dumped in Alaskan waters. The December letter welcoming Cohen to the board was clear on the position offered: “The volunteer panel will look at current and innovative wastewater technologies and evaluate installation and economic issues associated with the application of these technologies on cruise ships. I look forward to receiving the findings of the science advisory panel. The panel’s work will inform DEC reporting to the Legislature and influence future policy decisions.”
Last Saturday, DEC Commissioner Larry Hartig notified Dr. Cohen at home that he was being removed from the panel after only three weeks. The reason? Because Dr. Cohen’s “an advocate.” Pressure had come down from the industry.
Dr. Cohen was a co-writer of the Alaska Cruise Ship Ballot Initiative that voters passed in 2006.
In his own words from the Seattle PI shortly after the initiative passed:
“The CSBI will require that cruise ships meet all Alaska pollution standards like every other industrial and municipal discharger. The cruise lines have been convicted of numerous felonies for purposely dumping hazardous and conventional wastes, yet remain the least-regulated dischargers into public waters. They will now have to meet Alaska’s rules, and state marine engineers will be on board to verify their compliance.
The CSBI establishes a statewide tax of $50 per passenger on 1 million visitors cruising north each summer. The $50 million will help maintain the docks, waterfronts and emergency services used by the industry so local communities won’t bear the whole burden of supporting tourism facilities through local taxes.
Cruise lines will now pay income taxes to Alaska on all Alaska-based revenue, including gambling receipts. They’ve been making a fortune for decades registering their ships in foreign ports to circumvent federal taxes (while paying Third World wages for servicing first-class clientele). Carnival’s profits in 2005 totaled $2.3 billion on which it paid $73 million in income taxes, a rate of 3 percent.
The cruise lines also will be required to communicate honestly with passengers about the commission rates paid for promoting shore side retailers. Businesses pay exorbitant commissions to appear on ships’ preferred merchant lists and local businesses that often can’t afford to pay (unlike the out-of-town owned chain stores) are effectively blacklisted.
For years, industry lobbyists have used boatloads of tax-free money to block every legislative attempt to pass fair pollution regulation and taxation laws for the cruise lines. The cruise industry tried buying the recent election in Alaska by giving a front group $15,000 a day to claim the CSBI was a “punitive” attack on the entire Alaska tourism economy. The words “cruise ship” never appeared in many of the ads but the public wasn’t fooled and the industry’s fear campaign ran aground.”
Dr. Cohen then encouraged Washington State to consider similar legislation to protect their waters. That should establish his advocacy for people and pristine water. For too many years, Cohen had witnessed the cruise ship industry not do the right thing to protect Alaskan waters; it’s just too expensive.
Gershon was one of 11 individuals on the panel. From his perspective, those who represent cruises ship interests still have a majority of the seats. Gershon says his interest was simply to get the job done and stop the discharge of toxic wastes into Alaska’s waters as soon as possible.
Who are the other panel members? Well, filling the legislatively mandated cruise ship industry seat, is Lincoln Loehr. I’m sure he’s a lovely man…but he isn’t even an Alaskan. He is employed by the law firm of Stoel Rives LLP as an “Environmental Compliance Analyst” and lives in Seattle.
Mr. Loehr’s resume of influence is impressive…if you’re impressed by a guy who works hard to save money for corporations that want to pollute. It took a google moment to find Mr. Loehr’s justifications. I think he’s an advocate. Can we get him fired? Oh, crap…I don’t have a lobbyist.
With the recent Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision to allow corporations unfettered access to our electoral process, Alaskans should be outraged. On top of that, we have the corporate cruise ship industry leaning on Commissioner Hartig to dump Dr. Cohen. I expect the leaning, it’s what lobbyists do. It’s Commissioner Hartig’s deficit of fortitude under pressure that should send Alaskans to their phones and emails in protest…were it warmer I’d say the streets.
The DEC, under Hartig has the power over permitting the Pebble Mine project. If Commissioner Hartig falls flat over a cruise ship advisory panel position…how susceptible is he to the powers of Pebble Mine lobbyists? His lack of judgment should get him fired…instead he’s about to get a promotion.
Commissioner Larry Hartig has a hearing Tuesday morning. The third in-line to the governorship is vacant and he’s up for confirmation.
You must call, email and/or smoke signal your state legislators IMMEDIATELY! You must do it NOW! If you don’t, we might as well just put the whole place on eBay.
Here is the State Legislative website to locate your law-maker. Click the Senate and House tabs at the top to find contact details.
Tell them you don’t trust Commissioner Hartig’s judgment.
Only when the last tree has died and the last river been poisoned and the last fish been caught will we realise we cannot eat money. ~Cree Indian Proverb