Rep. Don Young

GUEST COMMENTARY: Attempt to repeal ANWR development an insult to Alaskans

Last week the House of Representatives approved measures that would restrict America’s future energy supply, including one that would block responsible development in northeast Alaska. As the state’s congressional delegation, we are unified in strong opposition and believe passage would be a reckless strategic mistake. The bill in question comes from a California representative and targets the non-wilderness 1002 Area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which Congress set aside in 1980 for future exploration. After years of debate, Congress agreed in 2017 to allow careful development of just 2,000 acres of the 1.5-million-acre area, itself located within the ANWR’s 19.3 million acres. This developable fraction of a fraction amounts to one ten-thousandth of the refuge. We believe, in fairness to Alaskans, that the leasing program should proceed responsibly, with Congress and the Trump administration ensuring that lands and wildlife are cared for. All of us are working to put the proper guidelines in place. Yet some in Congress still remain eager to repeal the provision, based on misperceptions about what is at stake and what most Alaskans want. Most offensively, the repeal effort ignores the Inupiat people of Kaktovik, the only village located in the ANWR. Most who live there, like a sizable majority of Alaskans, support responsible development of the 1002 Area. Members of Congress seeking a repeal ignore the significant environmental protections that apply to development, as well as the decades-long record of safe operations on Alaska’s northern coast under some of the world’s strictest environmental regulations and oversight. They ignore incredible advances in technology, which have dramatically reduced the surface footprint of development while increasing drillers’ subsurface reach by as much as 40 times. They also overlook the importance of economic vitality in sustaining Alaskan life. Our state wasn’t allowed into the union until 1959 when Washington was finally satisfied we could support ourselves through resource production, and maintaining a strong economy remains essential to all of our goals, including environmental preservation. Alaska is still young and will need to develop its resources long into the future. As recent years have shown, our economy, our state budget and our people suffer when federal restrictions prevent development. But it isn’t only Alaska that stands to lose. According to the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, Alaskan oil supports 12,000 jobs and $780 million in wages in Washington’s Puget Sound region each year. All of that could vanish if the Trans-Alaska Pipeline shuts down. The pipeline is currently only a quarter full and needs new throughput from the 1002 Area to reach capacity. Further south, data from the California Energy Commission shows the state’s imports of foreign oil have risen significantly as Alaska production has declined. California’s answer is that it plans simply to stop using oil—yet it still ranks near the top of the list of oil-refining states. Despite ceaseless rhetoric about a Green New Deal, the reality is that our nation and the world are demanding the resources that will come from the 1002 Area. If Alaska doesn’t supply them, another country will. Global oil demand is rising, not falling. President Trump’s commitment to America’s energy renaissance has helped create thousands of well-paying jobs across America, strengthening families and communities along the way. And while prices have been relatively stable, artificial restrictions can lead to price spikes that cause hardship and unrest. See Paris as a recent example. Careful development of the 1002 Area will help strengthen America’s economy and improve our energy security in the long-term. It will also benefit global energy markets, allowing the U.S. to provide allies with alternatives to resources from unfriendly nations and cartels. Competition for resources in the Arctic is another geopolitical dimension of the ANWR issue. Russia and China are expanding their presence in the region, with billions of dollars of investments in infrastructure. The U.S. is falling behind in icebreakers, deep-draft ports and other Arctic infrastructure needs. Pulling up the stakes on an American energy program that helps build a presence in the region would put us further behind. We understand that Alaska has earned an almost mythological place in the minds of many Americans. But we cannot be treated like a snow globe, to be placed on the shelf for viewing pleasure only. Alaska has tens of millions of acres of national parks, wildlife refuges and federal wilderness. We also have room for the responsible development of a small part of the 1002 Area, and all Americans should recognize this is in our nation’s best interest.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Unite to rebuild infrastructure for Alaska and the nation

“Gridlock.” “Dysfunction.” “Stalemate.” In recent years, all of these words have been used in reference to Washington – especially after the 2018 elections created a divided Congress. It’s true that the partisan divide has oftentimes made it difficult to get things done, but it doesn’t have to be that way. This Congress, Republicans and Democrats from districts across the country have an opportunity to find common ground on an issue important to all of us: infrastructure. As former chairman of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, I understand how important strong roads, ports, and bridges are to my fellow members and their constituents. Robust infrastructure is essential to a strong economy, and when the economy is booming, we all benefit. Improving America’s infrastructure could be the shot in the arm needed to take an already booming economy into overdrive. According to the Council of Economic Advisers, the economy could grow at an additional 3 percent if Congress comes together to pass major infrastructure legislation. However, any successful bipartisan infrastructure bill will need to address a range of issues currently facing our airports, harbors, and roads. First and foremost, Congress must come to an agreement on funding and find a way to fix the Federal Highway Trust Fund for the long-term. The Highway Trust Fund is in danger of becoming totally insolvent, and if you’ve seen the condition of some of Alaska’s highways – including the Alaska-Canada highway – you know how critical it is to stabilize this important funding source. Recent Congressional Budget Office estimates report that the Federal Highway Trust Fund will run out of money by 2022, making reform even more urgent. If we’re going to fix the Highway Trust Fund, we must be willing to consider all available options. Revenues from the federal gas tax have been steadily decreasing as our automobiles become more fuel efficient, and there are more electric vehicles in use, and dollars don’t buy as much as they once did. Just a few years ago, the federal gas tax collected $39 billion in revenue, but needed to support $52 billion in program commitments. The imbalance between revenue collection and highway spending is unsustainable, and only makes it more difficult for Congress to make progress on delivering the infrastructure that America needs. The most obvious solution to this problem is to simply raise the gas tax and adjust it for inflation. However, this simply wouldn’t generate enough revenue as cars are less reliant on gasoline than ever before. Another suggested solution is to initiate some type of user fee or vehicle-miles-traveled, or VMT, tax, which has seen some success in various states that have started pilot programs to test the viability of this solution. Methods to administer such a program on a nationwide scale are untested, and it would be important to ensure that constituents in rural states such as Alaska are not disproportionately affected by a user fee or VMT tax. Regardless of the method used, the fact of the matter is that both Republicans and Democrats want to fix the Federal Highway Trust Fund, and for the sake of the constituents who sent us here, we need to get it done. Rapidly-advancing technology is also improving lives across the world, and Congress should be prepared to not only harness this new technology to improve our infrastructure, but to develop a regulatory approach that keeps Americans safe, but doesn’t hamper innovation or further progress. The promise of companies like Amazon making unmanned deliveries via drone, or Tesla producing self-driving cars represents a new frontier in infrastructure and commerce, but also raises new safety concerns. In any new infrastructure effort, Congress must resist the urge to overregulate these technologies and instead opt for a light-touch approach that finds a regulatory balance while protecting public safety. Another focus that a potential bipartisan infrastructure package must also address is the lengthy permitting and project delivery process that has left so many projects in limbo. Time is money, and implementing oversight and looking for ways to eliminate unnecessary delays saves hard-earned taxpayer dollars. Environmental impact statements – though needed – can cause unnecessary delays, and create cost overruns that threaten entire infrastructure projects. President Trump and congressional leadership on both sides of the aisle must come together to reform the permitting process to better streamline project delivery while still protecting our environment. Project management is vital for the efficient completion of large infrastructure projects and if we are serious about putting together a robust infrastructure package, management standards must be considered in the legislation to ensure taxpayer dollars are not wasted. As Dean of the House, I’ve been fortunate to play a role in major, bipartisan wins for Alaska and our country. I firmly believe that this divided Congress has the opportunity to reverse the trend of crumbling roads and bridges, and finally get major infrastructure legislation passed. This year let’s finally break the gridlock, lose the “dysfunctional” label, and send an infrastructure bill to the President that our constituents can be proud of. Our communities and our economy depend on it. Rep. Don Young is the longest-serving member of the U.S. House of Representatives and submitted this column to mark infrastructure week May 13-20.
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