Suspect Local Special Interests, Typical Beltway Corruption, And Industry Favoritism Over Indigenous Communities Put Coastal Rainforest At Risk
In response to today’s news that the Trump administration would push forward with a controversial project to log ancient old-growth forests in the Tongass area of Southeast Alaska, Jayson O’Neill, Director of the Western Values Project, released the following statement:
This decision was born out of the same corruption and cronyism that has dominated the Trump administration from the start. The revolving door, shady lobbyists, and disregard for the wishes of Alaskans and Indigenous communities are everything that’s wrong with how President Trump has managed our nation’s public lands and forests.”
Here’s more background on the cast of dubious characters that persuaded the Trump administration to allow greater logging in this area:
Chair of the Senate Energy Committee and Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski took campaign cash from the CEO of Viking Lumber, a company that stands to benefit massively from the Tongass proposal. President Trump’s Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue later joined him and Senator Murkowski for a tour of Viking’s mill. Richard Goeken, the current Principal Deputy General Counsel at USDA, formerly represented Viking in their bid to log old-growth forest in the Tongass.
President Donald Trump himself directed Secretary Perdue to go forward with a far more aggressive plan for the area after meeting with Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy earlier this year. The USDA inspector general later opened an investigation into whether the agency wrongfully funneled funds for firefighting through the Dunleavy administration to the Alaska Forest Association.
Entrenched Alaska interests line up to cash out
First Things First Alaska, a questionable advocacy group comprised of industry leaders that could profit from developing the Tongass, has argued for exempting the area from the roadless rule. Its legal counsel Jim Clark and former Executive Director Denny DeWitt previously worked for Senator Murkowski’s father Frank when he was Governor of Alaska. Clark was chief of staff to Governor Murkowski when a number of ethical scandals plagued his administration, some of which resulted in criminal prosecutions that were later overturned.
A DC-based lobbyist, Steve Silver, is representing a number of the groups that want to exempt Alaska from the roadless rule. Silver’s law firm previously employed Clark, according to news reports. Brad Gilman, a former staffer to disgraced Alaska Senator Ted Stevens, is Vice President at the firm. He has made repeated small contributions to Senator Murkowski’s leadership PAC.
Trump administration favors industry groups over Alaska Natives
Silver successfully scheduled a meeting between Secretary Perdue and Clark on behalf of a number of other special interests according to emails obtained by the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council. Joel Jackson, a leader of an impacted Indigenous community, reports that “sovereign Tribal governments were disrespectfully brushed aside and told to meet with the Undersecretary.”
The same emails also show Senator Murkowski’s staff attempting to set up a meeting between her father and the Secretary.