Mike Dunleavy

Congress must not break trust with Alaska and its Native people

The United States purchased Alaska from Russia in 1867, but that wasn’t the end of the transaction. Just more than a century later, and nearly a decade after Alaska became the 49th state, what would turn out to be the biggest oil field in North America was discovered in 1968 at Prudhoe Bay on the North Slope. The find, and the need for an 800-mile pipeline to develop it, gave new urgency to settling the Native land claims not only along the proposed corridor but for all of Alaska. Negotiations that had progressed in fits and starts throughout the 1960s culminated 50 years ago with the passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act in 1971. It included the selection of 44 million acres and nearly $1 billion for the regional corporations created in the bill. Some of the promises of ANCSA have been kept; others have yet to be fulfilled. Right now in Congress, Democrats are trying to break one of them in their proposed budget reconciliation bill. A promise for economic freedom for the Native Village of Kaktovik was made by Congress under ANCSA through the formation of the Kaktovik Iñupiat Corporation. The first step in keeping that promise was finally fulfilled 46 years later through the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The Democrats’ bill would repeal the 2017 provision requiring lease sales to be held for the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which was explicitly set aside for development in the 1980 Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, and it would revoke the leases purchased by the State of Alaska this past January in the first of those sales. On his first day in office, within the executive order that canceled the permit for the Keystone XL Pipeline was another section ordering a moratorium on all activity within the ANWR coastal plain to effectively nullify the legal lease sale that had occurred earlier that month. In the process, the actions of Biden and congressional Democrats will not only expand our trade deficit, end our energy independence and weaken our national security, they are robbing Alaskans of economic opportunity and breaking trust with the Native landowners by denying them potentially billions of dollars in royalty income. The Native Village of Kaktovik, the only community inside the coastal plain, was actively involved in the process of developing the environmental impact statement for the Coastal Plain Oil and Gas Leasing Program. The Biden administration’s stated goal is “strengthening Tribal consultation,” yet it tossed away this consultation with the only Tribe within the coastal plain because it doesn’t fit their narrative. Kaktovik and Voice of the Arctic Iñupiat support the leasing program, and are frustrated by recent decisions to undermine their participation in Tribal consultation and government-to-government engagement. The actions by Biden and congressional Democrats to undo the progress toward fulfilling federal obligations are not only wrong, they are an injustice. Their actions are also out of step with Democrats’ goals to reduce carbon emissions. With prices at a seven-year high, we are importing more oil from Russia than any time in U.S. history, according to the most recent data from the Energy Information Administration. Average imports from Russia per month so far in 2021 are 22 million barrels, which is 34% higher than 2020, and 18% greater than the previous record for a year set in 2010 of 18 million barrels per month. We’ve already imported more oil from Russia this year than we did in all of 2017 or 2018. Not only are we enriching President Vladimir Putin and his cronies in the oil business, we are supporting their production from the very Arctic the Democrats are trying to lock up here in Alaska. Thirty percent of the oil production for state-owned Gazprom comes from Arctic fields and there are multiple exploration and development projects in the Russian Arctic both on and offshore that Americans are now financing at the pump thanks to Biden administration policies supported by his friends in Congress. On top of this, recent court decisions have delayed North Slope projects under rulings that require the modeling of downstream carbon emission impacts, yet our own government isn’t holding itself to the same standard through imports of foreign oil. Why not? Overlooked or ignored is the fact that the practices of flaring or venting natural gas to produce oil are illegal under state law. In 2020 the Climate Leadership Council determined that North Slope energy production is “carbon cheap” and has fewer emissions than the Lower 48 and global averages. Keeping its trust with the people of Alaska is not only required of the federal government, but encouraging cleaner U.S. production that benefits those closest to it is in alignment with all of our goals for environmental, social and economic justice. The Voice of the Arctic Iñupiat, Kaktovik Iñupiat Corporation, the Native Village of Kaktovik and the State of Alaska are unified in the defense of our rights under federal law guaranteeing self-determination and in turn to provide economic opportunities for the people we represent. These rights would be erased under the current proposed budget reconciliation bill and Department of Interior actions, and we urge members of Congress to reject these destructive policies in the name of Indigenous rights, environmental justice and racial equality. Mike Dunleavy is the 12th Governor of Alaska. John Hopson Jr. is the president of Voice of the Arctic Iñupiat, which was formed in 2015 as a 501(c)(4) nonprofit corporation to create a communication network among Arctic Slope communities to establish a unified voice for our region and people. Its members include the Native Village of Kaktovik and Kaktovik Iñupiat Corporation.

COMMENTARY: A fix for the deficit of trust created by PFD cuts

Over the past four years, Alaska’s political class has focused on addressing the state’s budget deficit, and rightly so. When the price of oil crashed, the state found itself facing a multi-billion-dollar deficit. But as our campaign hears from everyday Alaskans across this great land, a deficit more corrosive to the health of our republic is emerging: a deficit of trust. Alaskans are leery of politicians who say one thing and do another. When Bill Walker ran for office in 2014, he said he had “no intention” of cutting Permanent Fund dividend checks. Not long after his inauguration, however, he was singing a different tune. In the span of three years, his administration denied every man, woman and child in Alaska over $3,700 each. The governor’s dividend-cut policy isn’t wrong solely because it’s bad for the economy — paying Alaskans a full dividend would provide a tremendous boost to Alaska, which suffers from anemic growth, high unemployment, and outmigration. It’s wrong because it severed trust between the people and their representatives. The Alaska Permanent Fund and dividend program were established by the people in 1976 and 1982, respectively. The people were wise enough then to know politicians would be tempted to spend away the oil boom and so constitutionally protected some of the revenue and created the dividend program to protect the fund. Since 1982, the dividend program has worked as intended, protecting the fund while benefitting Alaskan families. Then suddenly — after more than three decades — the deal changed. Walker unilaterally cut dividends at the worst possible time and without direct input from the people. If given the opportunity to serve, mending the trust deficit created by Walker will be my top priority. It’s no secret that I am the only candidate in this race who supports protecting the traditional PFD formula. But I also believe the people of Alaska should settle this issue directly, which is why I support going to the people for an advisory vote before any changes are considered to the PFD — at minimum — and ultimately believe the people should have the opportunity to vote on protecting the PFD in the state constitution. In our system of government, the people are sovereign, and no change to the Permanent Fund would long survive without their direct consent. Such a vote would restore trust between the people and government officials, and the outcome would be respected on all sides. If the people were wise enough to establish the Permanent Fund and a spending limit, then there’s no reason to doubt their wisdom in dealing with today’s challenges. Despite the failed leadership of the current governor on this and many other issues, he wants another four years, and is vying with lifelong politician Mark Begich for the chance to accelerate a tax and spend agenda. In every town hall, forum and debate, Walker and Begich are in vigorous agreement. They say we must cut the PFD to save it, that new taxes are inevitable and state spending has been cut to the bone. They’re convinced that wise decision makers in government know how to spend your money better than you do. But Alaskans aren’t buying it. We know the PFD isn’t broken and state government spends roughly three times the national average per person. That’s why Alaskans support more reductions to state spending, oppose new taxes and know the enemy of the budget isn’t the PFD — it’s out-of-control spending. Unless we get spending under control, government will consume the other half of Alaskans’ PFDs, and no amount of new taxes will be enough. That’s the path my opponents will take us down. I hope to lead us down a different path. If the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior, then Alaskans can be confident I will remain true to my word. I voted on behalf of my constituents against a budget that didn’t pay Alaskans a full dividend, because I knew there was a better way. Alaska is blessed with an abundance of natural resources and enough financial assets to get us through this challenge. With the right leadership and policies in place, we can resolve the budget deficit without PFD cuts and new taxes. If we control state spending and maintain a competitive, stable business climate, Alaska will grow its way out of the deficit. Elections are about trust. With your help, together we can restore trust in our government and ensure everyday Alaskans have a voice in the big decisions ahead. Mike Dunleavy is a candidate for governor of Alaska. A public school teacher, principal and superintendent for more than two decades in Koyuk, Kotzebue and the Mat-Su Valley, Dunleavy served on the Mat-Su Borough School Board and in the Alaska State Senate. Editor’s note: The Alaska Journal of Commerce will publish up to two op-ed submissions from the candidates for governor between now and our Oct. 21 edition.
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