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Aspen and Alaska

By Jimmy Carter

Rosalynn and I went first to help celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Aspen Institute. I was asked to make the final address and to answer questions in a conference titled "Globalization and the Human Condition." I emphasized the desperate plight of more than half the earth's population whose income is less than $2/day, many of whom have not benefited (and may have suffered) from globalization. I also outlined some of the things that could be done by rich countries and individuals to bring peace and better health and education to these people.

We then flew to Anchorage, where I was honored on the 20th anniversary of the Alaska National Interest Land Conservation Act (ANILCA), which we finally got passed into law in December, 1980. On my previous visits to Anchorage, while in office and soon thereafter, I was greeted by hundreds of irate demonstrators, condemning what I had done to protect 106 million acres of precious land (Georgia is 38 million acres). We also allotted 104 million acres to the state, 45 million to Native Alaskans, and permitted full exploration and extraction of 95 percent of the potential oil-producing areas. At a noon banquet I spoke to an overflow crowd, one of the most enthusiastic I've ever seen, and this time the demonstrators outside the hotel were all supporting ANILCA.

I described the history of the legislation, the marshalling of powerful forces against it, the benefits that accrued to the state, and the ongoing challenges. As the long-time honorary chairman of the Alaska Conservation Foundation, I then helped with further receptions, media interviews, and a public forum to strengthen the efforts of Alaskan environmental groups. We had a strong panel representing both sides of the Alaska lands issue, with a large audience at the University of Alaska.

What got top headlines was my calling for President Clinton to protect the coastal area of the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge as a national monument, similar to what I did in 1978 to gain passage of ANILCA. It would prevent oil drilling in this pristine region. Clinton may do this after the November election if Bush will be the next president, but it won't be necessary if Gore is elected.

Thursday evening, after the university forum, Governor Tony Knowles issued through the press a critical letter to me about my call to protect ANWR from oil drilling. The TV stations were deluged with angry calls, and I decided to respond to him. I authorized my letter to be made public Friday morning, after the governor received my response. The power of big oil and developers in Alaska is overwhelming among public officials. The state has the worst environmental delegation imaginable in Congress, and they chair the House and Senate Natural Resources Committee and the Senate Appropriations Committee. Only a Democratic majority in the Congress can reduce their power.

During our two mornings in Anchorage we went birding with Buzz Scher and Thede Tobish, sighting 42 species, 11 of which were new (life birds).

Friday morning we flew to Lake Clark National Park, one that I helped create, and enjoyed a couple of days fishing for Arctic char, rainbow, Northern pike, and grayling, catching a few Sockeye salmon by mistake. They are brilliant red when spawning, with green heads. We saw large brown bear and moose on the rivers and two flocks of Dall sheep on the mountainside near where we stayed with Sandy and Mark Lang in Port Alsworth.

In all, it was a productive and delightful trip - then the Delta redeye back to Atlanta this morning. .

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