Alaska Elephant Refuge

After reading about the recent decision on the Exxon Valdez disaster, I started to get curious about how the Chugach recovered. Somewhere in all the legal and political shuffling a series of quiet settlements were reached, and the group re-emerged from their bankruptcy caused by the spill. But if their way of life was so negatively altered by the spill, which is still affecting the habitat and economy around them, what do they do now?

According to the Washington Monthly, they were given an opportunity to join the military-industrial-congress complex and, as they say, the rest is history:

These same villagers are the unlikely owners of a giant multinational company: the Chugach Alaska Corporation. Chugach Corp.’s annual revenues now top $700 million, nearly all of which comes from federal contracting. The company does more business with the U.S. government than do IBM, AT&T, or Motorola. Chugach and its partners run military bases from Nevada to Iraq. They monitor seismic activity from a base in Korea in support of the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. And on another end of the earth, Chugach operates the Reagan Test Site, a coral reef leased from the Marshall Islands, where engineers give ballistic missiles a workout and may some day run the planned Star Wars program. The contract for that one is worth $2.5 billion.

How do the villagers, most of whom would much rather hunt seals and stalk caribou herds than go anywhere near a corporate boardroom, manage these projects? The truth is, they don’t. Village chief Gary Kompkoff is vice chairman of the corporation, but no other villagers and only a handful of Eskimos are even employed on these projects. The projects are managed instead by Chugach’s subsidiary companies–run by white contracting executives from offices in downtown Anchorage or in the Lower 48 states–or by Chugach’s corporate partners–huge firms such as Lockheed Martin and Bechtel.

These natives are being used essentially as fronts, what the Heritage Foundation’s Ronald Utt calls “corporate shells,” because of certain privileges that only Alaskan tribal corporations enjoy. Chief among them is the unlimited right, given to Alaskan native-owned corporations by Congress at the behest of Alaska’s senior senator, Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), to bid for “sole-source” federal contracts (those not put up for competitive bid). As a result, these companies and their giant corporate partners can win federal contracts without necessarily having to offer the government the lowest possible price.

So the result of Exxon and BP externalities in Alaska apparently is the transfer of lucrative military-industrial contracts to people most impacted. While this is clearly good for industry and short-term gains, it is not clear how it helps build awareness or fair representation of the devastating risks from industrial externalities (like oil spills). Maybe the Chugach will reinvest their new money into rehabilitating and preserving their environment, or maybe their hands are tied.

Tom Toles had a funny cartoon to this effect.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.