Good Stewards of the Environment

By Vic Kohring, March 10, 2017 

As a pro-development, conservative legislator in the '90's and early 2000's, one of my highest priorities was to create jobs for my constituents. With Alaska being a resource-rich state, it made sense to emphasize developing the state's natural bounty to build our economy and add good paying jobs to the workforce. Instead of low-paying service industry jobs in a restaurant or box store that barely exceed minimum wage, why not high-paying ones in places such as the North Slope oil fields, the Seward Peninsula at the Red Dog lead and zinc mine or in the interior at the Fort Knox gold mine outside Fairbanks? 

I was often criticized by the left and their friends in the fake news media for being too tight with the oil and gas industry. Even the feds targeted me after setting up their crooked little scheme as part of the Polar Pen investigation a decade ago where they engaged in massive cheating to take down a sitting lawmaker. My political career may have taken a major hit thanks to unscrupulous government attorneys, but in hindsight I have zero regrets for aggressively working to drill more wells and produce more oil and gas to generate wealth for the state's treasury and create decent jobs so people can support their families.  

I also have no regrets backing legislation - including bills I sponsored such as House Bill 69 - that spurred development by streamlining overbearing regulations in oil and gas regions including Cook Inlet, here in the Valley and on the Slope. Keeping tax rates reasonable to establish incentives for the industry to invest here was a focus too. I'm proud of my reputation in Juneau as one of the most staunch supporters of oil and gas with a track record to back it up.  

As the legislature's Oil & Gas Committee chairman for five years, I helped lead an effort to keep the industry vibrant and growing. Measures were put in place to encourage production of heavy viscous oil and hydrocarbons in marginal, low yield and high risk fields. Simplifying the permitting process made it easier for coal bed gas drilling in the Mat-Su, much to the consternation of the "Friends (Enemies?) of Mat-Su," a radical, in-your-face, lock-everything-up environmental group. The result has been greater exploration and the discovery of more oil and gas. Repsol, for example, just announced the biggest onshore U.S. oil discovery in 30 years in Alaska.  

While supporting resource development however, I also kept a close eye on the environment, recognizing it's importance and the need to protect it. We must extract resources carefully while keeping our land, air and water clean and pollution free as much as possible. In other words, a balance must be achieved. Rampant development that leaves in its wake fouled land and water serves no purpose as we've seen in countries like Russia, China and in parts of Africa.

Carelessly managing existing resources does not have a place either. I was horrified by the Exxon-Valdez oil spill that devastated our shorelines and killed birds and marine life en masse. But at the same time, we must not overreact by locking up our state and turn it into a big park where everything looks pretty, but little wealth is generated and few jobs exist. The pendulum must not shift too far one way or the other. 

From a Christian perspective, protecting the earth is important. The Bible says in Psalm 24:1 that the fullness of the earth is for those who dwell in it. That includes safeguarding it. It also states in Revelation 11:18 that those who destroy the earth will not go unpunished. Therefore it's Biblical that we care for our planet. Moreover, it's simply logical to protect our land, water and air, vital to life and the health of earth's occupants. Use our resources wisely, but do not waste, pillage and pollute. It's common sense.

I've been an avid outdoorsman most of my life. I've hunted and fished, shot moose, dipnetted salmon, trapped mink and cut down many a tree in my day. I love to hike. The Butte and Lazy Mountain are favorites. And I'm not embarrassed to admit I enjoy wildflowers, bird watching, picking berries and a beautiful sunset reflecting off Pioneer Peak uninhibited by hazy, polluted air.

Our leaders in Juneau and Washington should know that there's nothing shameful about being pro-environment, even as a Republican. Nor is it contradictory. As they go great guns trying to prove how "conservative" and mow-down-the-trees pro-development they are to win votes and impress big donors, there's no reason to fear going public in support of the environment as if politically incorrect. Besides, it's right in the eyes of God.