By RICK WHITBECK
Serving as a state’s governor is never a walk in the park under the best of circumstances, let alone recent years.
Economic unease, caused by both a change in federal leadership and a worldwide pandemic, has tested the fortitude of state executives across our nation.
An ever-widening gap between those who embrace tenants of individual freedom and those who promote a government-dependent state with their ideology has made dealing with state legislative bodies more difficult for governors, especially when they don’t have alignment with their respective states’ lawmakers’ beliefs or priorities.
There are many states who struggle with rising crime. Increasing costs of living, homelessness, with Antifa-type uprisings, with unchecked immigration challenges, and with energy grids and solutions driven by ‘green’ ideologues, that have failed at the most inopportune times.
Although Alaska has certainly seen its share of tests and trials since Gov. Mike Dunleavy took office in January 2019, we sit in much better shape across the board when compared to other states across our great nation.
While our long-term economic plan remains murky, we are in much better shape fiscally than New Jersey or Illinois, which haven’t had balanced budgets for over 15 years. Our revenues during the same time are the highest against expenses – nearly 137% – in the nation.
We have the second-highest energy costs in the nation, but given our state’s size, that’s understandable. What is surprising is the small per-kilowatt-hour cost differences between our state ($.2361) and the next-highest ones – all run by Democrats and all who embrace a ‘green energy’ standard ahead of fossil fuels – California ($.2311), Massachusetts ($.2223), Connecticut ($.2075), Rhode Island ($.1975) and New York ($.1953).
When it comes to jobs, we have not been immune to hardship. Some of that was a result of COVID-19, and some of that was due to the attack by eco-ideologues, who have driven a narrative of fear of an ‘existential threat’ of climate change to willing and scared Americans for decades, and demanded an end to oil and gas development in an effort to stave off the worst of the ‘threat’.
Despite these well-funded and well-organized attacks, Alaskans should be shouting “thank you!” to Governor Dunleavy and his administration for the way they’ve continued to drive responsible development of our abundant natural resources throughout his time in office.
The first two years of the Dunleavy Administration saw a willing and eager partner in the White House, as President Trump prioritized growing domestic jobs and building American energy independence as a foundational plank in his plan to Make America Great Again.
Whether working with the Trump team and our Congressional Delegation to open the Coastal Plain of ANWR to its long-overdue development opportunities, to embracing and championing the Willow project in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A), the Trump/Dunleavy tandem was great for Alaska’s oil and gas future, and it was clear the relationship was built on mutual respect and shared visions.
The year 2020 brought a drastic shift in our petroleum economy, as the pandemic decimated Alaska’s oil and gas exploration season and threatened ongoing operations. Still, the Dunleavy administration continued to hold oil and gas leases, providing future exploration prospects. They also worked with the federal government to move projects forward, including the Pikka field, which finalized its federal permit for development on state land during the year.
President Trump also saw how Communist China had a stranglehold on rare earth and critical mineral supply chains. Working with Congress, and championed by Alaska’s Senator Lisa Murkowski, a new priority to improve domestic mining was launched. That should have been amazing news for many of Alaska’s mines – Pebble, the Ambler project, Donlin, UCore and others – and the Dunleavy team spent 2020 helping to advance each of them through necessary permitting and regulatory efforts.
Even with the politically motivated hijacking of the Pebble project’s permit process in late 2020 – and its permit denied, in spite of a clean Final Environmental Impact Statement from the US Army Corps of Engineers – the Governor and his team have continued to champion a fair and transparent process for Pebble, in spite of the eco-Left’s best efforts to silence his administration’s influence.
Last year, America changed course and elected Joe Biden as President. Gone was the “America First, America Best” vision of President Trump, replaced by a energy transition, away from oil, gas and coal, and onto a ‘green’-led “just transition”. Gone was American energy independence as a primary goal, and in was a “leave-it-in-the-ground” goal of extremist environmentalists.
Still, Governor Dunleavy and his team have pressed forward to protect Alaska’s still-bright energy future.
In 2021, his team has continued to hold oil and gas leases in Cook Inlet and North Slope/Beaufort Sea areas, supported Oil Search’s Pikka efforts by approving a seawater treatment plant, and approved the permits that will one day bring natural gas to Donlin’s minesite.
The administration has also resolved Native allotment claims cases, after the Biden Administration slammed the approval process shut in its first month in office.
Those land allotments were due to Vietnam-era Native military members, and some could one day be used for responsible development and economic opportunity. In addition to the Native Allotment program, sales put 209 plots of state land into private hands. These will be available for both recreation and personal economic use.
Dunleavy and his team have constantly and consistently advocated for Alaskan jobs, Alaskan opportunities and Alaska’s future. When you look at the resource development record of his predecessor, who zealously tried – and thankfully failed – to hand an Alaskan natural gas line to Communist China to control and prosper from, and compare it to the efforts of this administration, there is a clear difference in both the success and ethical, open and honest responsibility to benefit all Alaskans.
We don’t know what the rest of 2021 and 2022 will bring, but I sleep better at night knowing our state – and its energy future – is led, championed and defended by Governor Dunleavy and his team.