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Community Perspective

Some history about exploitation of Alaska’s resources

On Nov. 8, 1955, Bob Bartlett — Alaska’s first U.S. senator in 1959 — spoke to the assembled delegates at the Alaska Constitutional Convention upon “Meeting the Challenge.” He mentioned the large land grants to be made to our new state — “100 million-plus acres represent a veritable empire, a wealth of land and resources….” The land grants recognized, “Today’s citizen expects and demands that government be not only a policeman but a service agency as well…. So, extensive land grants … will be made in order that [Alaska] may start off in a sound fiscal position, capable of meeting the requirements of service placed upon it by its citizens.”

Mr. Bartlett continued his speech commenting upon past exploitation, referencing the Kennecott Copper operation — “a 19th century Robber Baron philosophy… [which] left nothing of enduring value to the Territory…” Alaska had experienced “exploitation on a grand scale. But the possibilities of future exploitation in the field of natural resources are infinitely greater than any in times gone.”

Bartlett’s words upon “very real dangers” from 1955 are true today:

“Development must not be confused with exploitation…. Two very real dangers are present. The first, and most obvious, danger is that of exploitation under the thin disguise of development. The taking of Alaska’s mineral resources without leaving some reasonable return for the support of Alaska governmental services and the use of all the people of Alaska will mean a betrayal in the administration of the people’s wealth.”

Those words guide my thinking in 2020 as I write in support of Alaska’s Fair Share citizen initiative.

When Alaska’s generation of past leaders, including Gov. Jay Hammond from 1974 to 1982, defined Alaska’s fair share, it was meaningful to me. That generation worked, pre-oil, to build Alaska and knew of the importance of protecting Alaska. Governor Hammond defined Alaska’s share as one-third of the value of Alaska’s oil resource under land owned by Alaska. The one-third value of the combined royalty and production revenue streams from Alaska’s legacy fields was a “reasonable return” to “support” services to the citizens. Gov Hammond complained Alaska was “shortchanged” when the revenue streams fell to 27%.

Decades later, elected officials failed to remember history and failed to protect Alaska.

In 2013, an oil-soaked and conflicted Legislature and governor passed Senate Bill 21. From 2015 to 2019 under SB21, Alaska did not receive a reasonable return from the oil resource extracted from land owned by Alaska. Under SB21, Alaska received net negative production revenue — less than $0 due to credits. Alaska, therefore, received less than our 12.5% royalty. The combined royalty and production streams were less than 12.5%. The ill-fated legislation has continually exploited Alaska. Any combined percentage in the teens overtly exploits Alaska.

Let’s remember the definition of “fair share” from our Alaska heroes of the 1970s.

The 2013 elected officials breached their fiduciary duties to the people to protect Alaska and violated our constitutional history. Rather than an oil revenue system capable of supporting government services, SB21 burned through $18 billion in savings, failed to pay thousands in PFD payments to Alaska’s citizens, slashed the University of Alaska’s operating funds, trashed our essential ferry service, threatens K-12 education and promises more cuts to come.

If SB21 remains unchanged, we are promised no end to the slash-and-burn cuts to essential services and to the families of Alaska. SB21 is a “betrayal in the administration of the people’s wealth.”

We must not stand by and watch our Modern Alaska die. As Bob Bartlett warned in 1955, we are in “danger … of exploitation under the thin disguise of development.” SB21 is the poster picture of that exploitation.

Did Bob Bartlett talk in 1955 about where we are now and where Alaska should not have been since 2013? Yes, he said, “If the public domain of Alaska is frittered away without adequate safeguards, the state of Alaska will wend a precarious way along the road that leads eventually to financial insolvency.”

Alaska must get off that road.

The only solution for Alaska to get off SB21’s road to insolvency is a citizen’s initiative that will assure a fair share for all. 

Keep Alaska’s constitutional history in mind and vote yes for Alaska’s Fair Share Act, Ballot Measure 1. Alaska’s future depends upon it.

Joe Paskvan is retired after almost 40 years as an attorney in private practice. He is a former state senator who served as chairman of the Senate Resources Committee. He lives in Fairbanks.


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