Big Oil Bailout a lesson from history book

COMMENTDecember 17, 2011 

"Those who don't know history are destined to repeat it."

-- Edmund Burke

In 2006, the FBI raided the offices of legislators. Lawmakers were prosecuted for selling their votes to help pass Gov. Frank Murkowski's Big Oil Bailout, the Petroleum Profits Tax.

The PPT tied 85 percent of state revenue to the efficiencies of the oil producers while simultaneously incentivizing them to be inefficient; the higher their costs, the more they could write off, the lower their taxes, the less money for Alaska. Great deal for the producers at the expense of Alaskans.

And now, just five years later, Gov. Sean Parnell is trying to pass his own Big Oil Bailout, known as HB110. History, it seems, is repeating itself.

Bob Bartlett was prophetic. As Alaska's congressional delegate, he addressed the Alaska Constitutional Convention on Nov. 8, 1955. He spoke of the importance of our natural resources and predicted an influx of resource development interests. "Unfortunately some of these interests will not be scrupulous in the choice of measures to achieve their ends . . . lobbying activity on a scale never before seen will take place in the capital when Alaska becomes a state."

Bartlett also warned of "exploitation under the thin disguise of development. The taking of Alaska's mineral resources without leaving some reasonable return for the support of Alaska governmental services and the use of all the people of Alaska will mean a betrayal in the administration of the people's wealth."

Bartlett's words were never more relevant to the lobbyist-infected political landscape we find ourselves in today, one where the oil industry has literally bribed legislators and raised millions to elect oil-friendly politicians who have returned the favor by ignoring their constitutional obligation to secure the "maximum benefit" for Alaskans.

The oil companies have systematically taken over the Chamber of Commerce, Resource Development Council and policy groups. One of those groups recently ginned up fake legislative report cards. A nonpartisan Legislative Research Report showed that lawmakers who received F and D grades voted virtually identically to those who got A's and B's. The difference? Those who supported the governor's bill to give $2 billion a year to the oil companies with no strings attached got A's, while those who didn't got D's or F's.

This past week, Senate President Gary Stevens -- one of the legislators with the audacity to question Parnell's oil tax giveaway -- walked into the lion's den. He addressed Commonwealth North, a group pushing to roll back oil taxes while billing itself as "Alaska's premier nonpartisan public policy forum."

Stevens didn't mince any words. He noted the bogus legislative grades were "sort of like a target. A giant Scarlet Letter. Though I prefer to think of it as a Red Badge of Courage." Stevens, a retired history professor, then schooled the chamberesque crowd.

You could have heard a pin drop in the room as he reminded Alaskans about the Amerada Hess court case. The court found that from 1977 to 1992 the oil companies were guilty of "deliberate falsification in computing the price paid to Alaska for its royalty oil." The judge said the state was guilty of "inexcusable trustfulness" in dealing with the oil companies.

Stevens recalled the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, which destroyed the fishing careers of thousands of Alaskans. He noted that the Alaska Oil Spill Commission said Alaskans were abused by Exxon's approach toward risk management, saying the company showed "a corporate culture of irresponsibility" that put profit over safety and risk mitigation.

Stevens brought up Bill Allen and the Veco scandal that led to the former speaker of the House, chair of the House Oil & Gas Committee, Senate Rules chair and others being convicted of corruption for trying to sell out Alaska to the oil companies.

Stevens noted the oil companies have an obligation to make as much money for their shareholders as possible. But the Legislature has a constitutional obligation to maximize the benefit of our resources for Alaskans.

For the past five years, Alaska's Senate has been led by a statesman-like bipartisan coalition. While most states are broke, Alaska has more $15 billion in savings -- the largest in the country, without counting the Permanent Fund -- because of the oil tax reform called ACES.

Jobs, investment, exploration, number of companies on the North Slope and oil company profits are all at all-time highs. Though you'd never know it from the oil industry report card, evidenced by the F the bipartisan Senate group received.

Former oil company executive Randy Ruedrich recently orchestrated the redrawing of Alaska's legislative lines. His goal? Destroy the Senate coalition and restore power to the oil industry.

Will we Alaskans stay the course? Or have we forgotten our history and thus become destined to repeat it?


Shannyn Moore can be heard weekdays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on KOAN 1020 AM/95.5 FM radio. Her weekly TV show can be seen Saturdays and Sundays at 3 p.m. on KYUR Channel 13.

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