I recognize, as we all should, that oil resources and production in our state has been a blessing. The money through taxation has provided for millions and billions of dollars over the years for individual Alaskan’s as well as peripheral benefits to other industries, our public education system for infrastructure projects, Native corporations up north, the list could go on.
I imagine many would argue that these benefits pale in comparison to the huge profits that oil companies reap each year. And, I guess, I can see that point of view as well, but totally disregarding the benefits I think would be a mistake.
But Senate Bill 21, in my opinion, reaches beyond simply providing a nice cushy tax rate that benefits oil companies in Alaska. Beyond the benefits of petroleum, there are a host of problems. Petroleum, while extremely useful in our current economic circumstances (gasoline, jet fuel, heating fuel, plastics, and a million other things) is fundamentally damaging. From extraction, to production to waste and pollution, the whole chain from supply and demand for petroleum is hurting the long term economic interests of not only Alaskan’s but our world community.
I am not talking about polar bears dying or abstract discussions about fluctuations in temperatures or of icebergs that a majority of people never see melting, I am talking about people, their lives, their wallets, our state, our nation, our world, our economy.
Even while the U.S. is upping its reserves and production of petroleum, which could mean great things as far as oil prices go for individual Alaskans in the near future, the fact remains that oil is a finite resource that will be depleted eventually and collaboratively a certain impact on climate, the environment through the use of oil and accidents that happen along the way (i.e. Exxon oil spill, BP gulf of Mexico, Shell oil rig) are a certainty.
Impacts on the environment by petroleum production and use is not relegated to cute Coca-Cola polar bears, but could radically and almost certainly negatively in some cases make some north western communities unlivable through fluctuations in water levels, or perhaps other communities unsustainable because of the gradual or accidental pollution and waste that petroleum and its by-products ultimately produce. The pollution and waste that is always an offshoot of petroleum will and does affect the tourism industry, fisheries, and even subsistence practices.
What I am trying to come around to is this: I don’t think SB 21 is a bad piece of legislation because it benefits oil companies with the potential for more profit, or even that SB 21 gives rise to a potential income tax in the future, my opposition is based upon the cursory judgment that giving such a break to oil companies only further entrenches petroleum into our economic reality.
Why can’t we look forward and make an argument that does away with SB 21 and institutes a program that reasonably taxes oil companies, where the funds from these taxes flow specifically into projects and research to figure out how Alaska and the world is going to move beyond petroleum.
In turn, as an Alaskan and U.S. citizen I can accept a lower permanent fund or a reasonable income tax to pay for our state’s educational programs for kids, or health care, or roads, or other common assets of our local and national community. After all, I’ve Alaska and its people in my blood and bones.
• Forest Kvasnikoff is a UAS Graduate (2009), Social Science, History, and currently works in IT for the School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences.