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Chamber members not bullied by Big Oil

Posted: November 7, 2011 - 1:01am

Local chambers of commerce and the statewide Chamber do what I, and many other business owners like myself, don’t have time to do on a day-to-day basis. They promote improvement of our business environment through education and advocacy.

As a small business owner based in Southeast Alaska, I recognize the value of working with other businesses through chambers of commerce. I’m a current member of the Ketchikan, Skagway, Prince of Wales and Wrangell chambers of commerce in addition to being a member of the Alaska State Chamber of Commerce.

Meeting several times per year, in various locations around the state, Alaska Chamber members work together to improve the current business environment, and to talk about how we can lead that change. One example of that is our Legislative Policy Forum. Designed to allow any member to submit a position for consideration of the general membership, this forum is how our legislative priorities are selected each year. Each member, regardless of income or size, gets one vote. That’s right: one member, one vote.

Ironically, a press conference held last week, one day prior to our Policy Forum, by Rep. Les Gara and Sen. Bill Wielechowski implied otherwise. They claimed that I and my fellow chamber members are controlled by “big oil.” They were correct stating that oil companies are the largest financial contributors to the chamber. What they missed are all the other contributors, like me. My company is a chamber underwriter, and I serve on multiple committees as well as chairing the chamber. My time is valuable, and anyone who knows me knows I won’t be bullied into supporting positions I don’t agree with.

The outcome of the forum last week underscores my point: 90 Alaska Chamber members met during our annual forum and of those, seven of them represented oil, gas or refining businesses.

The priorities emerging from the forum guide our members and staff, as we work with policy makers to aid in producing legislation which helps businesses, large and small, be successful. This year, by overwhelming majorities, we chose six priorities out of almost 40 positions submitted.

The top three state priorities for 2012 are:

• Reform oil tax policy to encourage new oil production

• Support litigation reform relating to resource development projects in Alaska

• Reduce the high cost of energy

The Top Three Federal Priorities for 2012 are:

• Support Development of the Outer Continental Shelf, National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska and the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve

• Support the bypass mail system

• Oppose further federal land withdrawals in Alaska

There has been much discussion lately about the Alaska Business Report Card, which is a pro-economic development scorecard issued by the Alaska Chamber, the Alaska Support Industry Alliance, the Resource Development Council and Prosperity Alaska. Like the Alaska Chamber, these organization’s boards are comprised of hundreds of the best and brightest business minds in Alaska. And just like the Alaska Chamber board and members, these volunteers dedicate thousands of hours to insure that the most important government policies are highlighted for reform or implementation.

Despite the risk of political retribution toward me, my business, the Alaska Chamber, or other pro-business associations, I believe it is important to focus our policy makers on policies that will improve our economic future. As an Alaskan, I believe we all want a growing and sustainable Alaska economy. Clearly, opinions differ on how to improve our business climate. I respect that. I expect the same in return.

• Schofield is the CEO of Tongass Substance Screening, Southeast Alaska’s primary drug and alcohol collection and testing provider, and is the current chairwoman of the Alaska State Chamber of Commerce.

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