By Dave Harbour
Alaska Standard Contributor

Touring campuses around the country last year, the West Virginia environmental lawyer told his UAA audience that activists should stop coal and other development projects before they reached the permitting stage.   Use all possible obstruction techniques against developers: intimidate them, embarrass them, threaten them with lawsuits, etc.  Most of the young crowd clapped.  I rose, introducing myself as a former regulator, and said, “When the law provides for a regulatory process how can you urge citizens to preempt and violate it?  Aren’t you urging a violation of the rule of law?”  The crowd did not clap.

Now in my 40th year in Alaska, I’ve seen a good number of environmental representatives come and go.   Some of them, years ago, were friends.  Typically, they’d show up at public hearings and make their case for why a project should be modified or how a park should be named.  Many of us worked together to do good things, like create the Cheney Lake Park and greenbelts.   This exercise of free speech never gave rise to alarm about the health of our civilization.

The professional activists leading environmental organizations now are giving me reason to fear for survival of our way of life.  They have big budgets and many employees to feed—requiring dramatic fundraising efforts based on creation of real or imagined environmental doomsday messages.  They are community organizers who work full time to put out of business the very enterprises that sustain our way of life.  They use many techniques and an alphabet soup of agencies and programs to delay or stop development in the NPR-A, ANWR, OCS, etc.:  “CEQ”, “ESA”, “NOAA”, “EPA”, “BOEMRE”, “BLM”, “Critical Habitat”, “Ocean Policy”, “Wild Lands”, “National Monument”, “Wilderness”, etc.

In Alaska, our way of life is sustained by one main enterprise: petroleum.  While the Trans Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS) is 2/3 empty and its throughput is declining at about 7% annually, it still transports the product that funds about 90% of the State’s operating budget.  Oil fuels about a third of the entire economy.  Life without oil would relegate Alaska to a pre-pipeline economy and population.  A good friend and former small-town mayor once said, “I remember life before the pipeline; it was cold, dark and wet”.

Without large, new supplies of oil to offset the decline, operators may have to shut down the pipeline during a cold winter in just a few years.  Pipeline officials have testified in recent days to Legislators in Juneau that even now the pipeline faces the risk of interrupted service.

Alaska’s headquarter city and the entire real estate market of the state depend on TAPS throughput.  Without TAPS most schools – especially in rural Alaska – would close along with most health clinics, village safety and most social service programs.  Most state and many municipal employees would be at risk because most of the 40,000 petroleum related employees would have become unemployed or migrated south.  All big box and little box retail and service businesses would face depressed demand.  Those remaining employed would face reductions in wage and benefits.  State supported programs for veterans, the poor, the disabled and the elderly would dry up.

Lest I paint too drab a picture, we should all take comfort that we could go on living as if the pipeline’s loss meant nothing, if we were willing to spend the Permanent Fund on operating an unsustainable state government for a few more years.  However, at some point, some clever fellow would probably point out that the state already owes its unfunded liability kitty for retired state employees over $10 billion…and then there are jillions of dollars of state and municipal and utility bonds to pay off.

The picture, realistically, is pretty awful, like George Bailey’s (James Stewart’s) dream in, “It’s a Wonderful Life”.  Unlike the movie, our drama is about to unfold in real life.

If our leaders don’t take control of the situation, the situation will control us all: as the future unfolds very deliberately, very logically, and most tragically.  Leaders need to take control in two ways:

First: Leaders need to act decisively to improve Alaska’s investment climate so that the large oil companies invest more in the state.  Though there is no way to structure – at least in a free-enterprise democracy – a guarantee that tax reductions would result in specific investments or local hire policies, we have ample lessons throughout history that reduced costs result in more investments.  In any case, legislators must quit their incessant, persistent effort to extract guarantees from those whom they’ve overtaxed when such demagoguery is futile anyway.

Second: Legislative leaders need to support Governor Sean Parnell’s efforts to stop an overreaching federal government from depriving this and future generations of the statehood compact promise, that  Alaska can support itself with its natural resource wealth. Federal actions affect natural resource development on state, Native and private lands and deprive Alaskans of reasonable access to natural resources on Alaska’s federally controlled lands.

Back to my opening point: environmental activists and their allies are not anxious to improve the investment climate (i.e. opposing passage of HB 110 that would modify the state’s progressive net profit severance tax).  They are most active in supporting the Obama Administration’s very consistent regulatory initiatives to shut down natural resource development in Alaska.

Tomorrow night, the Feds will hold a hearing to get public opinion on their decision to lease tracts of Alaska Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) lands from 2012 to 2017.  Alaskans can find out how to participate by going to my website:

Meanwhile, Alaskans should know that various environmental groups are planning to testify against OCS when billions of barrels of oil in the OCS near Prudhoe Bay could be moved by undersea pipeline to TAPS and help sustain the lifetime of our pipeline, our economic lifeline.

An example of the professional opposition Alaska residents face is reflected in an email one of my readers sent to me.  The author of the letter is Lindsey Hajduk.

Hajduk is the Sierra Club’s Associate Field Organizer.  Her email urges volunteers to participate in a phone bank to encourage testimony tomorrow night, “To Protect Our Coasts From Offshore Drilling!”  She suggests that her contacts: write letters to the editor; spread the environmental gospel at ‘social clubs’ or ‘faith communities’; make announcements on campus and in classrooms.

This is why I no longer regard environmental activists in Alaska as nice people simply exercising free speech to make the world better.  I regard them as disciplined soldiers working full time as community organizers to create opposition to the very work that sustains our way of life.  Try Goggling ‘Alaska Environmental Organizations’ and you’ll encounter over four dozen with Alaska operations, all of which to one degree or another want to see Alaska’s major source of life support – oil – go away.

Hajduk and her friends seem to preach that their way leads to, “…A Wonderful Life.”  But that seemingly benign siren song is a pretext for thousands of personal tragedies, erosion of our civilization and destruction of our way of life.

We are truly engaged in a battle of wills.  It’s not a game.  It’s for keeps.  And, it’s all about what kind of a life we are preparing for our kids.

See you tomorrow night….

The Alaska Standard