Palin's Trajectory to National Prominence Powered by her Anti-Environmentalism

Sarah Palin's candidacy is now widely viewed as a political liability. As a result, the substantive threat posed by her candidacy is in danger of being overlooked. But the more we find out about her, the worse she looks.

A new article in The New Yorker makes clear that Palin's trajectory to national prominence was, in fact, powered by her anti-environmental instincts.  In 2007 The Weekly Standard and The National Review both ran cruises to Alaska for conservative heavyweights.

The cruises stopped in Juneau. Governor Palin had William Kristol, the Standard's Washington-based editor; Fred Barnes, the magazine's executive editor; and Michael Gerson, Bush's former chief speechwriter, over to the governor's mansion for lunch. The article then goes on to describe how Palin's rise to national prominence got its start:

According to a former Alaska official who attended the lunch, the visitors wanted to do something "touristy," so a "flight-seeing" trip was arranged. Their destination was a gold mine in Berners Bay, some forty-five miles north of Juneau. For Palin and several staff members, the state leased two helicopters from a private company, Coastal, for two and a half hours, at a cost of four thousand dollars. (The pundits paid for their own aircraft.) Palin explained that environmentalists had invoked the Clean Water Act to oppose a plan by a mining company, Coeur Alaska, to dump waste from the extraction of gold into a pristine lake in the Tongass National Forest. Palin rejected the environmentalists' claims. (The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Coeur Alaska, and the dispute is now before the Supreme Court.) Barnes was dazzled by Palin's handling of the hundred or so mineworkers who gathered to meet the group. "She clearly was not intimidated by crowds -- or men!" he said. "She's got real star quality."

By the time the Weekly Standard pundits returned to the cruise ship, Paulette Simpson said, "they were very enamored of her." In July, 2007, Barnes wrote the first major national article spotlighting Palin, titled "The Most Popular Governor," for The Weekly Standard. Simpson said, "That first article was the result of having lunch." Bitney agreed: "I don't think she realized the significance until after it was all over. It got the ball rolling."

So her campaign was born because of her defiance of the Clean Water Act. But Palin has also shown a stunning disregard for other environmental values, as a recent article in The New Republic makes clear.  Alaska, for example, has a birth-defect rate that's twice the national average -- and its Arctic regions end up as the final sink for persistent organic pollutants released all over the Northern Hemisphere. Palin can't do much about airborne toxics -- but when she has a chance to deal with local toxic threats, she comes down consistently against the public health. She opposed a requirement that schools give parents 48 hours notice before a school was to be sprayed with pesticides and other toxic chemicals.

And sometimes Palin's indifference to environmental protection means creating toxic risks for others. In the summer of 2007, Palin allowed oil companies to move forward with a toxic-dumping plan in Alaska's Cook Inlet, making it the only coastal fishery in the nation where toxic dumping is permitted -- putting America's food supply at risk. Running for governor, she was opposed to the proposed Pebble Mine, but once elected she helped the mining industry defeat a citizen initiative that would have controlled toxic run-off from the mine. And Palin refused to help local communities get the U.S. military to clean up the toxic waste mess it left behind at Alaska bases.

Palin looks likely this year to help drag John McCain's candidacy down to defeat, or at least make his struggle harder. But she is already being talked about as a potential presidential candidate in 2012 for the Republicans. Environmentalists need to make sure that never happens.

Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. AlterNet’s journalists work tirelessly to counter the traditional corporate media narrative. We’re here seven days a week, 365 days a year. And we’re proud to say that we’ve been bringing you the real, unfiltered news for 20 years—longer than any other progressive news site on the Internet.

It’s through the generosity of our supporters that we’re able to share with you all the underreported news you need to know. Independent journalism is increasingly imperiled; ads alone can’t pay our bills. AlterNet counts on readers like you to support our coverage. Did you enjoy content from David Cay Johnston, Common Dreams, Raw Story and Robert Reich? Opinion from Salon and Jim Hightower? Analysis by The Conversation? Then join the hundreds of readers who have supported AlterNet this year.

Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Help ensure AlterNet remains independent long into the future. Support progressive journalism with a one-time contribution to AlterNet, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you. Click here to donate by check.