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Alaska’s Responsible Energy Development is a Compatible Arctic Activity | Commentary

By Frank McQueary Allen Smith, former vice president of The Wilderness Society’s Alaska chapter, praised the efforts of President Barack Obama in a March 24 article for working to forever shut down the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration (“Congress: Protect ANWR from Alaska’s Greed “).  

Smith denounced Alaskans as misguided and greed-driven, he shamed his fellow U.S. Marine Corps brother Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan and he lobbed stones at Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski for her strong defense of Alaska families, jobs and way of life. All in a day’s work for someone who is serving as a surrogate for the Democratic Party.  

Peeling back the layers of The Wilderness Society, you find an entirely partisan organization that in 2012 claimed about $38 million in revenues, much of that from money on campaigns targeted at keeping Alaskans from developing our lands. Eleven of its executives make more than $150,000 a year. Its president made more than $308,000 — more than both the U.S. Senate majority leader and the speaker.  

I have a response to Mr. Smith: Alaskans sent Sullivan to Washington to defend our way of life with every ounce of his being. Our way of life includes our rich cultures, our love of wild places and our commitment to responsible development of our resources.  

As Sullivan has said consistently before being elected and since: Alaskans want more access to our federal lands, fewer regulations on small businesses and a strong, secure Arctic, teeming with opportunity. He’s right — and that’s why he defeated former Sen. Mark Begich.  

But the president and his functionaries seem to want less of all these things. All told, the Obama administration has taken 22 million energy-rich acres off the table — 10 million acres in the shallow shelf of the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas and 12 million acres in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.  

Murkowski, by no means conspiracy driven, recently surmised that the president’s real goal is to shut the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System down. He can do that by starving the pipeline of oil until it becomes a hazard and must be dismantled.  

If that’s true — and she would know better than me — then the president’s goal, as the top elected official of the National Democratic Party, is to kill Alaska’s economy.  

Ninety percent of the Alaska’s state revenues come from the oil and gas industries in Alaska. Those revenues provide the salaries of teachers, firefighters, police officers and social workers, to say nothing of thousands of oil-patch workers, contractors and service industry workers.  

In fact, the oil and gas industry accounts for about 33 percent of all wage and salary employment in Alaska and 38 percent of all wages.  

The problem for Mr. Smith is the public appreciates elected officials who are trying to keep the private-sector economy working. While writing, “Congress should reject the high-pitched whine of Alaska’s greed” as we try to develop our resources, he evidently fails to notice this isn’t his grandpa’s Congress. Republicans now have a structural advantage and the president’s lame-duck era is well into its irrelevancy.  

So while the Obama administration has slow-walked every permit — from ConocoPhillips waiting to access its purchased leases in the National Petroleum Reserve Alaska, to Shell running into regulatory hell over its leases in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas — the tide is turning. That oil on the Arctic Outer Continental Shelf and NPRA could keep the pipeline going for another 50 years. Alaskans will fight for that economy harder than ever, because this is a fight for our families and communities.  

Alaska voters sent a Republican delegation to Washington to draw the battle lines on federal overreach and to open up our state for economic development that is compatible with our values of protecting our land and other resources, such as fish and wildlife.  

Unlike Smith’s suggestion we ought to thank Obama for trying to shut down the Arctic, we Alaskans would thank the president for getting the greedy hand of federal overreach out of our state, and allow Alaska to responsibly develop the energy resources far beneath the surface of our vast wilderness. There are many compatible uses for our Arctic and energy is certainly among them. It can be done right, and Alaskans have proven that with Prudhoe Bay.  

Frank McQueary is vice chair of the Alaska Republican Party.

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