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Don't let special interests break Alaska's 'backbone' on oil taxes

Malcolm B. Roberts
OPINION: Our generation must step forward and stand up to our obligations as citizens of this wonderful state. Are we an owner state or a corporate colony? Pictured: Protesters with "Backbone" in Homer burn a $5.5 Billion check in protest of SB21. April 4, 2013 Courtesy Bob Shavelson

Wally Hickel and Jay Hammond, two of Alaska’s strongest and most beloved governors, fought each other politically for 25 years. Wally’s view of Alaska, based on our constitution and the Alaska Statehood Act, was what he called “The Owner State.” Jay called Alaska “The People’s State.” Same difference.

I admired both men, and one of the highlights of my career, having worked for and with Gov. Hickel for nearly 40 years, was when Wally and Jay joined forces in a citizen’s group called Backbone.

In April 1999, British Petroleum announced it was purchasing the worldwide holdings of Atlantic Richfield, including Arco Alaska. If this deal were consummated, as Hickel wrote in his 2002 book “Crisis in the Commons: the Alaska Solution," “One company would have determined what happened on the North Slope, using the resources owned by all Alaskans, as but one pawn in their global corporate game.”

BP’s management saw nothing wrong with their plan since the British tradition favors monopolies. The U.S. tradition, however, champions competition.

Along with Backbone co-founder David Gottstein, Hickel and a group of prominent Republicans, Democrats, Independents and Greens rallied the public and the media.

Unfortunately, then-Gov. Tony Knowles threw his full support behind BP’s proposed acquisition to control roughly 75 percent of the North Slope’s oil fields and 75 percent of the trans-Alaska pipeline. He continues to support the industry’s interests to this day.

Eventually a delegation of Backbone members flew to Washington, D.C., to meet with the chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, the agency responsible for preventing monopolies in the United States.

The FTC chairman explained that his agency only deals with monopoly issues that involve companies. Hickel countered, “But Alaska is a company. We own Prudhoe Bay. And we own the oil.”

Convinced, the FTC filed a $1.2 billion lawsuit. Within weeks, BP divested itself of Arco’s Alaska holdings, selling them to Phillips Petroleum, which later merged with Conoco.

This story is relevant to today’s Alaskans because on Aug. 19 we will vote on Proposition 1, which would repeal the 2013 oil tax law, Senate Bill 21, which its opponents describe as “the oil tax giveaway.”

In the past weeks and months, Exxon Mobil, BP and ConocoPhillips have spent more than $12 million on a media campaign to preserve SB 21, the oil tax rewrite that was promoted by Gov. Sean Parnell and passed by the Alaska Senate by only one vote.

Alaskans should be aware that state senators Kevin Meyer and Peter Micciche, long-term employees of ConocoPhillips, cast their votes in favor of SB 21, from which their employer stands to benefit by hundreds of millions of dollars a year. It was an obvious conflict of interest.

Outraged, 50,000 Alaskans signed the petition to be able to vote on this law, while the oil companies continue to spend millions on a media blitz to tell you that the special interest oil tax rewrite is good for you and good for Alaska.

Unfortunately, Wally Hickel and Jay Hammond and other pro-Alaska champions are no longer with us. Our generation must step forward and stand up to our obligations as citizens of this wonderful state. Are we an owner state or a corporate colony? Fortunately, gubernatorial candidate Bill Walker has taken that stand. It’s time for the rest of us to show we have backbone and vote yes to repeal the giveaway.

Malcolm B. Roberts has been a member of Backbone since its founding in 1999 and was a longtime aide to Gov.. Wally Hickel. He and his wife, Cindy Roberts, who contributed to this commentary, are members of the volunteer steering committee for the Vote Yes. Repeal the Giveaway campaign.

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