Like all my fellow Governors, I’ve sworn an oath to uphold our state and federal constitutions, but that responsibility is a little different here in Alaska.
In Alaska, our resources collectively belong to the people and my charge as Governor under Article 8 of our constitution is to ensure that these resources are developed “for the maximum benefit of its people.”
This collective ownership of resources is unique among all states, and in fact is our entire justification for statehood.
Before Alaska was admitted to the Union, we had less than a quarter of a million people spread out over nearly 680,000 square miles and there were many in Congress who believed that we would not be able to support ourselves without massive federal subsidies.
The discovery of oil in Cook Inlet in 1957 changed that perspective, and two years later Alaska became the 49th State under a compact with the federal government that we would be allowed to develop our resources.
More than 64 years later, however, the federal government has not lived up to its promises under the Statehood Act. Instead, all too often, it feels like Alaska is being sanctioned by our own government.
If that sounds like hyperbole, consider that while this administration vacillated over whether to approve the Willow project here in Alaska, it was making futile entreaties to Saudi Arabia to increase production, lifting sanctions on Venezuela, and draining our Strategic Petroleum Reserve to record lows.
The delays in approving projects like Willow point to another self-made obstacle to advancing the energy transition. Five- and 10-year permitting processes to develop domestic resources aren’t just working against oil and mining; this same cumbersome process is delaying renewable energy projects and transmission upgrades, and eroding the value of billions of public and private dollars in capital sitting on the sidelines.
To its credit, the Biden Administration did the right thing and approved the Willow project, which will create thousands of jobs during construction and hundreds during operation, along with the associated domestic energy and economic activity that Alaska and the U.S. needs.
This approval would be grounds for celebration if it were a sign of a change in direction in response to the skyrocketing prices and energy supply instability caused by this administration’s policies, inflationary spending, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Rather than acknowledge the benefits of this project and its overwhelming support among Alaskans, the approval read more like an apology, and went to great lengths to make a concurrent announcement that the approval of the 500-acre Willow project was accompanied by a plan to withdraw some 16 million acres of Alaska on and offshore lands to development.
This latest proposal to restrict development in Alaska has been the unfortunate norm under this administration. Alaska U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan’s office has tracked nearly 50 executive orders or agency actions against Alaska since Jan. 20, 2021.
Stopping development in Alaska doesn’t just hurt the people I serve and our fellow Americans, but it also does nothing to reduce the use of fossil fuels worldwide. In fact, because we don’t flare natural gas to produce oil, sending energy production overseas will actually increase global emissions.
At peak production of 180,000 barrels per day, the Willow project is just 0.2 percent of current consumption, making it far from the “climate bomb” as it has been described and is easily replaceable from countries less concerned with environmental protections and human rights.
When it comes to goals for reducing carbon emissions, Alaska is not the enemy. We should be viewed and treated as partner.
Alaska is poised to be a global hub for innovation and research into emerging technologies such as hydrogen, tidal, and micronuclear, capturing and permanently sequestering CO2, and producing the necessary critical minerals responsibly along with the bridge fuels of LNG and oil without wasteful flaring – all under the highest environmental standards in the world.
Shutting down Alaska’s economy will do more than deprive of us of the resources we need to pursue these initiatives. Resource revenue funds our schools, our health care system, our State Troopers and Village Public Safety Officers, and a host of other state programs that support and protect our people and drive economic activity.
If you care about the environment, we need to produce resources in Alaska. If you care about social justice, we need to produce resources in Alaska. If you care about enriching people and not dictators, we need to produce resources in Alaska.
In the end, stopping development in Alaska will set back national and global efforts to reduce emissions in return for no measurable gain compared to the immeasurable harm to the people I serve.