Usual Suspects and a Common Thread: ANWR

The sudden interest in Alaska politics on the part of San Francisco foundations and environmentalist billionaires may seem out of place or surprising at first glance given the nature of their current project. Why do a bunch of Outside green elites care about salmon, after all?

It’s fair to question these Outside groups’ and billionaires’ devotion to salmon. But that’s missing the bigger picture – and the core, shared cause driving these activists’ desire to airdrop millions of Outside dollars into our state.

That common thread is the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, or ANWR.

An old debate enters a new era

ANWR represents a now decades-long debate over resource development in Alaska. Since the late 1970s, Outside eco-activists have adopted ANWR as a rallying point, throwing the kitchen sink at their efforts to stand in the way of developing these crucial energy resources. Locals, meanwhile, have long supported development in ANWR and recognized, more broadly, the crucial role played by the state’s oil and gas industry.

We may live here, but our opinion never mattered to ANWR activists. For 40 years, their only concern was standing in the way of resource development.

Passage of the Republican tax reform package in December of 2017 finally opened the door to development in parts of ANWR. But this hasn’t stopped the “usual suspects” that have fought development in our state for four decades from continuing their effort to shape Alaskan politics to advance their environmentalist agenda.

From ANWR to salmon, the cause – and the Outside influencers – remain the same

ANWR was once the rallying cry; today, it’s salmon. The end goal, however, is the same: preventing Alaska from determining our own economic future by any means necessary.

Ballot Measure 1 is an immensely complex piece of policy that would add onerous red tape to permitting across Alaska, badly limiting our economic prospects by making development extremely difficult.

That’s bad news for Alaska, but it’s just the latest in a generation-old effort to keep resources in the ground for the Yes to Salmon backers.

Both the New Venture Fund and the Hewlett Foundation, as well as many eco-billionaires like Tom Steyer who regularly do business with both entities, have direct ties to efforts to keep ANWR closed to resource development.

A quick look at the signees of a May 14 letter urging opposition to ANWR finds many have received significant financial aid from those also supporting the ballot initiative either through direct contributions to the campaign or by providing financial support to instate groups working to advance the cause.

Take Led by Bill McKibben, is on the vanguard of today’s environmental movement, stirring up local debates (that should have been determined by local perspectives) with money and influence from outside. The Rockefeller Brothers Fund has donated $1.35 million to since 2012. The Rockefeller Brothers Fund has donated more than $2.5 million to the New Venture Fund since 2017. Bill McKibben is also close personal friends with Tom Steyer. In fact, Steyer credits McKibben with making him care about climate change. It’s also been reported that Hewlett Packard has committed money to Bill McKibben, though it’s unclear exactly how much.

The overlap between the organization and individuals that have supported Yes for Salmon – either out front or behind the scenes – and who have actively worked against ANWR development and received money from the Hewlett Foundation and the New Venture Fund is telling. From Food & Water Watch and Friends of the Earth to the Sierra Club and the Oil Change International, the list of groups funded by Outside money and pushing their way into Alaska politics is exhaustive. These groups – and many more – have received millions from the Hewlett Foundation alone.

Same old, same old

By now, you know the story. That Outside foundations and billionaires are using their money to push a harmful measure on Alaska in pursuit of their own agenda should be clear.

These groups aren’t about to walk away from their investment. They spent 40 years fighting ANWR, and they’re not happy to have lost that debate. But Alaskans can’t let their money and their sophisticated advocacy drown out our right to make the choice that’s best for our state. There is too much at stake.