Although I have met the late Gov. Wally Hickel on several occasions and subscribe to his “owner state” philosophy, I have relied on his writings as well as the review of colleagues who worked closely with him, to answer the question, “What would Hickel, a staunch pro-developer, have to say about our current oil tax debate”? Fortunately, I did not have to look too far in the past. About six months before his passing, Hickel wrote an Anchorage Daily News op-ed entitled, “Alaska has no reason to roll over for Outsiders”.
Even though he was addressing the unleashing of undue corporate influence due to the Supreme Court’s decision on Citizens United, his comments are directly relevant to the ongoing debate over whether or not we should adjust oil taxes to be more fair on the high end or giveaway up to $2 billion a year in tax breaks with little to no accountability for putting more oil in the pipeline. Hickel states, “As an owner state, we welcome companies that specialize in responsible resource development. We benefit from their expertise and the jobs they provide. But they don’t own us. We, not they, own our state lands and resources. It is our country, not theirs. If we give that away, we will once again become a colony controlled by Outside interests.”
Later in this same article, Hickel lamented the lack of transparency over the deal between Exxon Mobil and TransCanada in regards to shipping natural gas from Prudhoe Bay. Here, too, his words speak directly to the issue now before the Alaska Legislature. Hickel warned, “At issue is whether we, as Alaskans, who own the resource-rich lands at Prudhoe Bay, are able to judge whether our resources are managed responsibly or if we are being ripped off. At stake are billions of revenue dollars that should go to our state treasury and billions more that should be dedicated to the Permanent Fund. Meanwhile, the oil industry and the companies that depend on them are flocking to support candidates for governor and the Legislature who will do their bidding. Pressure is already being applied to current legislators to rewrite the 2007 oil and gas tax called ACES, one of (former Gov. Sarah) Palin’s solid achievements.”
Knowing the strength of Hickel’s “Alaska First” principle, he would be right alongside Sen. Bert Stedman asking the tough questions and seeking independent expertise. Knowing his courage to call a spade a spade, he would be asking Gov. Sean Parnell to shed his past loyalties when working for ConocoPhillips and instead implore him to work for the best interests of all Alaskans. He would be reminding us of how when the tax rates were near zero under the old system, called ELF, the oil companies did not drill any new exploration wells. He would be highlighting the new exploration by smaller independents as a result of ACES. As a seeker of accountability, he would be asking why there is only 50 percent hire of residents during a period of all-time high employment on the North Slope. He would be questioning why under four years of the ACES tax structure, $7.8 billion in profit to ConocoPhillips and $8.5 billion to BP is not considered fair? (Exxon Mobil refuses to reveal income statements but testified that their profits under ACES would be similar).
But most of all as a passionate proponent of the “owner state” he would be horrified by Parnell’s relentless pandering to big oil at the expense of Alaska’s future. This is a conclusion shared by those who knew him well. In all likelihood this is a conclusion shared by thousands of Alaskans who not only admired Hickel but other Alaska statesmen like Govs. William Egan and Jay Hammond. They disagreed on many things, but they were united on standing up for our constitutional mandate to conserve and develop our commonly owned resources for the maximum benefit of our people.
• Troll, a longtime Alaskan, has over 22 years experience in coastal management, fisheries and energy policy. She writes and resides in Douglas.