The purpose of this blog is to turn the spotlight on a long list of issues relating to Governor Sarah Palin's administration. Another blogger has compiled a very comprehensive list of the "gates". We contribute to each other's lists as and when we remember yet another little (or big) scandal involving the Governor. Today I'm going to explore one item selected from my friend's list and in future posts I will focus on each item (in no particular order) as soon as I have done enough research.
Sarah Palin's supporters see her as a champion of children with special needs. Her main credential in achieving this reputation is based on having a child with Down's Syndrome in her family. There are no known behavioural or environmental factors that cause Down's Syndrome. But there are environmental factors that do cause other birth defects.The incidence of such births is twice the national average in the state of Alaska and in the North Slope it increases to four times. Considering that Alaska has a more serious problem than the rest of the country in this particular area, it's very noble of the Governor to embrace the cause of children with special needs. Let's have a look at the initiatives of Sarah Palin's administration that reflect her passion for this cause.
- In February 2008 Sarah Palin's administration opposed legislation that would give parents 48 hours notice before schools were to be sprayed with pesticides and other toxic chemicals. Currently, parents get 24 hours, which the bill's proponents say is not sufficient for parents who want to arrange to keep kids out of school for a few days after the chemicals are applied. Palin's administration argued that the bill was too restrictive and would force schools to notify parents before cleaning toilets with disinfectant, which, supporters say, is not true. In the same month, members of Palin's administration testified against language in legislation that would have banned polybrominated diphenyl ethers - a flame retardant that, studies show, harms the developing brain.
- In the summer of 2007, Palin allowed oil companies to move forward with a toxic-dumping plan in Alaska's Cook Inlet, the only coastal fishery in the nation where toxic dumping is permitted. Permits could not be issued without Alaska's certification that the discharges met the state's water-quality standards. Bob Shavelson, executive director of Cook Inletkeeper, an organization founded to protect the area's watershed, said at the time: "Palin's Department of Environmental Conservation issued that certification based on the long-discounted notion that 'dilution is the solution to pollution', turning the federal Clean Water Act on its head and actually increasing toxic pollution."
- Palin next took on the Clean Water Initiative, also known as Proposition 4, which appeared on the Alaska ballot on August 26. The measure would have limited the runoff of toxic metals (known to cause developmental and birth defects, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) from all mining operations, but it was aimed at stopping the proposed Pebble Mine, a huge mining proposal that was controversial for its potential impact on Bristol Bay, the world's largest commercial wild salmon fishery (for which Palin's oldest daughter was named). The project had been in the works for years, and, when she ran for governor in 2006, Palin told the Alaska Journal of Commerce that, if the mine was green-lighted, "there will be remediation from now to eternity." Once in office, though, environmental concerns took a backseat. In a TV interview six days before the vote, Palin said, "Let me take my governor's hat off for just a minute, and tell you personally, Prop 4 - I vote no on that." Alaska's mining industry turned Palin's face and words into an advertising blitz and came from behind to defeat it. The irony of this stance is that the Palins have a commercial salmon fishing interest in Bristol Bay. How could the Governor support the interests of an organisation whose actions would hurt her own business? What could have made her support of their interests against her own so passionate?
- The Governor was pushed by environmental activists and Alaska Natives to pressure the military in its cleanup of one of the most contaminated sites in Alaska. Northeast Cape Air Force base on remote St. Lawrence Island in the Bering Sea closed its operations in the 1970s and left thousands of barrels of toxic waste, containing solvents, fuels, heavy metals, pesticides, and PCBs, a group of toxic organic chemicals that have persisted in the environment. For the past few years, the Army Corps of Engineers has been slowly cleaning up parts of the site and claims it will leave it safe. (One federally funded study still in progress by the state's premier watchdog on chemical pollutants, Alaska Community Action on Toxics (ACAT), tested the local water and got a reading that was more than one thousand times the level that the EPA considers safe. According to Pamela Miller, ACAT's executive director, Palin should have used her powers as governor to forge a better cleanup plan. "Her administration has done nothing to work with the military to avoid possible contamination." Scientists have also opposed the Army's plan, saying it will leave the area dangerous.
- Governor Palin is passionate about drilling in ANWR (Arctic National Wildlife Refuge) and in June 2008 submitted a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), copied to the President, Vice President, Secretary of the Interior and the Alaska Congressional delegation. If the drillig in ANWR is to be done as responsibly as in the North Slope (birth defects 4 times higher than national average) the impact among the Alaska Natives would contribute to the overall increase in birth defects in Alaska.
It appears that the Governor's record on environmental issues actually contribute to the higher than average incidence of birth defects and abnormal development of children in Alaska. Let me see if I have understood it correctly: Sarah Palin's actions help create a problem then she champions the cause of the people affected by that problem?
(This post was based in great part on an article by Sheila Kaplan and Marilyn Berlin Snell called Northern Exposure published in October 2008 in The New Republic)