Here’s Why Yesterday Was A Historical Milepost For Alaska


Dave Harbour

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke with U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski and Governor Bill Walker. Northern Gas Pipelines file photo by Dave Harbour. Anchorage press conference, 5-31-17.

Yesterday,  Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke wrapped up a trip to study Arctic resources with a historical speech in Anchorage delivered at the 40th Anniversary conference of the Alaska Oil & Gas Association.  Zinke had been touring Norway, Greenland and Alaska with U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski, and Senators John Barrasso, John Cornyn, Steve Daines, and Heidi Heitkamp Story here).

For reference, readers may remember that Alaska is over twice the size of Texas, has over 3 million lakes compared to Minnesota’s 10 thousand, and is encircled by 3/4 of the United States coastline.  Congress and the President granted statehood to its only Arctic territory, effective January 3, 1959, on the basis that its vast natural resources could support the fledgling state.

Less than 2% of Alaska is privately owned.  Alaska maintains ownership of all subsurface rights on 104 million acres of state lands.  The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971 granted $40 million surface and subsurface acres of federal holdings to Alaska Native regional and village corporations authorized by the Act, in addition to $1 billion.  The Interior Department owns most of Alaska’s over 663,000 square miles.

The Congress passed and President Eisenhower signed the Statehood Act on July 7, 1958 — followed by a territory-wide plebiscite on August 26 — resulting in the birth of the state on January 3, 1959.  Since then, the Federal government over the decades has succeeded in imposing access restrictions and restrictive regulations on not only federal lands, but constraints that restrict use of private and state lands as well.

Citizens have fully appreciated the erosion in their ability to economically survive, caused by federal action (Video History).   For example, the 800 mile Trans Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS) is operating only at 1/4 of its capacity, and is in danger of shutting down, largely a result of onerous federal action that has blocked access to billions of barrels of Alaska North Slope oil resources.  Over 3/4 of the Alaska government’s operating budget income has flowed from TAPS production and the state is now mired in a deep fiscal crisis.

The Barack Obama administration, in our view, challenged the record for hostile acts against Alaska by President Jimmy Carter.  Carter and his Interior Secretary, Cecil Andrus, who imposed harsh access restrictions on millions of Acres.

Jim Kendall. Northern Gas Pipelines file photo by Dave Harbour

Bud Cribley, Northern Gas Pipelines file photo by Dave Harbour

Obama’s EPA preemptively denied a mining company due process after completing studies, to produce a development plan and someday apply for mining permits on state leased land.  (Reference.)  His agencies — particularly the EPA and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM Regional Director, Photo-r) — so delayed permit approvals for Shell Oil’s Arctic OCS program that the company had to fold its tents and leave the state after spending over $6 billion.  (Reference Federal and state investment disincentives) Obama’s BLM (Alaska District Manager, Photo-l), succeeded in blocking development on half of the land designated as the nation’s Alaska oil reserve, on political and not scientific bases.  (Federal overreach reference).  (Note:  we have thought well of the gentlemen above and some others employed in the Obama administration.  They may well say, “I just took my orders from Washington.”  But we also pray for officials in the future who, if forced to do that which they believe to be contrary to the national interest, would say, “I will not do that”, and be prepared to put their jobs on the line.)

Ryan Zinke, U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary. Northern Gas Pipelines file photo by Dave Harbour

A memorable line from Zinke’s presentation, “This order, in effect, signals that that Alaska is open for business”, was one of many comments yesterday that caused the crowd of several hundred to erupt with applause.  The “open for business” remark came after Zinke signed Secretarial order #3352 which ignited a process to roll back a number of the Obama era’s environmental activist lobbying objectives — not scientifically imposed restrictions — on oil and gas development in the National Petroleum Reserve (Alaska).

Other memorable quotes from the secretary’s speech, his press conference and informal comments following the press conference:

  • “Rules should be based on science and best practices”.
  • “America is blessed with energy riches; we are also blessed by the will to produce them.”
  • “I never want to see our country held hostage over a lack of energy critical metals.”
  • “The President has tasked me with assuring that our country becomes energy dominant.”
  • “The only path to energy dominance is the path to the great state of Alaska.”

Ken Salazar. Northern Gas Pipelines file photo by Dave Harbour

We couldn’t have been more pleased with the change in White House leadership as defined by the President’s appointment of Secretary Zinke.  His philosophy, management style and common sense are a marked contrast to that which we experienced when meeting Secretary Ken Salazar at a press conference for the first time.  This video tells that story.

Alaskans were equally incensed and fearful for the state’s economic future when the Obama Interior Department’s Fish and Wildlife Service threatened and then succeeded in managing the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge like a Wilderness.  This action contradicted the “1002 designation” intent of the Carter-era Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act and de facto changed access policy without Congressional approval.

Any reasonable observer will look at these and many other hostile Alaska actions by the enviro-activist-infused administration and recognize a dangerous, anti-job/anti-development/anti-due process pattern.  Add to that pattern Obama-era attacks on Gulf OCS activity, the Keystone XL pipeline, misuse of the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act and a critically thinking American citizen should be convinced that our government was in the hands of an enemy of the people it was pledged to serve.

Ryan Zinke. Northern Gas Pipelines file photo by Dave Harbour

In conclusion, we believe as the new Secretary does, that restricting safe and justified Oil & Gas development in a national petroleum reserve is, on the face of it, illogical and contrary to the public interest.  Eliminating burdensome, unnecessary, hostile government processes that bind free enterprise and the wealth producing base of our society is essential.

Secretary Ryan Zinke appears to be a leadership blessing for Alaska.

More than that, he could be a blessing for the country whose public service benefits generations of our children to come.  This may be so because his military background has trained him to be diligent and courageous.

We think that his Montana background may well have trained him to care about local opinions.  That could explain his desire to be — not America’s landlord — but a partner with local governments and citizens affected by his policies.

Lastly, we perceive him to be a national champion for multiple use and sustained yield principles, for reasonable economic development, and for access by citizens to their great public lands.

Zinke appears to seek the very balance of environmental values with public land access espoused by his public lands mentor, our 26th President, Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt Jr.

For Alaska as well as the whole nation his service could be looked back upon as a significant move toward making America Great Again — for our children and future generations.