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Profile: Don Young Slams Federal Overreach

Don Young visited Nome earlier this month. Photo: David Dodman, KNOM.

Don Young is running for his 22nd term as Alaska’s sole representative of the U.S. House. Young has held the job since 1973, and despite spending more than four decades working in the federal government, Young said the federal government itself is still the biggest issues with which Alaska—and Alaskans—have to grapple.

“The main thing that’s happening in Alaska, and I think most municipalities and the average Alaskans do recognize it, is overreach by the federal government. Being told you can’t do certain things because they don’t think this is appropriate. I’ve been here, in this job, for 44 years. Will be 44 years into this next election. And I’ve watched how the Corps of Engineers, the EPA, the Fish and Wildlife, federally, how they have said ‘we think this is the best way to do it’ and they take away the rights of individuals, and the rights of the state and municipalities, for promoting and helping their constituencies.”

Young said federal intrusion is stopping mining, oil exploration, and other resource development—putting a stop to what Young says are the activities that built the state.

“We’re not doing what we should do, that’s the production of natural resources and manufacturing from. And we’re not doing it. You take the Peninsula, Seward Peninsula, it’s an awesome place, tremendous potential if we were allowed to do things. The energy is a big issue up here. We have the potential of a hydro site. Can we build it? I doubt it. Can we try it? Probably. Do we have tidal power off of Little Diomede? Yes. Are we doing anything? No! Mining, which made this area, mining is very difficult now. Unless you’re out here puddling around in a couple rubber rafts, it’s pretty difficult to develop a large mining industry in this state because people won’t allow you to do it!”

That “puddling around in rafts” Young mentions refers to a 2011 offshore lease sale by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation. The sale brought in $9.3 million to the state, but other than spurring an influx of summer gold dredgers—and a somewhat notorious reality TV show—the sale hasn’t led to any new large-scale mining projects.

Young said, from his position on the House Natural Resources committee, he sees development projects stopped under the guise of protecting the environment all the time. But he dismisses many of those concerns as an excuse. He points to November’s Ballot Measure 4 as an example of how federal overreach and environmental concern threaten Alaskans.

“I’m not going to vote for Ballot Measure 4, I think it’s wrong. This is a backdoor approach to take away the state’s authority that they have selected for purpose. That’s my biggest battle on so-called Pebble Mine. It’s not about the mine, this is about state land that’s chosen by a state, that’s all a process within the state. To have the outside federal government come in, involved in this, to take away the rights of the states, this is a slippery slope. We could lose our state! We could lose 103 million acres of land, and Alaska Natives could lose their 44 million acres of land.”

Young’s answer: defy the feds. He advocates defunding the EPA and cutting federal budgets. And when it comes to other issues on Alaska’s federal lands—like the contentious road through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge that would connect residents of the Aleutian community of King Cove to an airport at nearby Cold Bay—he urges Alaskans to ignore the critics, stay focused on help their community, and start building.

“It’s opposed by all these, I call it the ‘green neenies’ that don’t understand, that this is saving lives. They’ve lost 12 people’s lives because they want to protect the brant goose! The goose is going to be protected, unless you hunt it. And all they want to do is use this road for evacuating people who are hurt, or who are sick, or who are dying! And ‘no, they can’t do it.’ That’s a classic overreach. And I’ve told the village corporation, and I’ve told the state, you ought to start building the road. Can you imagine? You think they’re going to bring in the Marines? Lives being lost because they want to protect … what? An area that’s not a virgin area, it’s had roads in it … I’d like to take that before the mass media.”

Young also said Alaska—and in particular, the Bering Strait region—has a vital role to play when it comes to global shipping, transportation, and the future of the Arctic. A role he says can only be fulfilled if Congress starts authorizing money to build a deep water port somewhere in the Arctic.

“Not just for oil exploration, like a lot of people think it’s for. It’s for what’s occurring with the other countries. We have no way to adjust if there’s an oil spill, what the tidal flows are, the effect upon anything. I’m going to continue to press for the ice breakers, but also for a better awareness of the Arctic, so we can actually have some navigational aids, and control over the trapping in the Arctic. If the ice gets thinner, as they say it might, then we should be prepared for that, and that means a real presence in the arctic.”

Don Young is running for re-election—as Alaska’s sole representative in the U.S. House—in the November 4th election. On Tuesday, KNOM will feature an interview with his opponent in the race, Forrest Dunbar.