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Clem Tillion: Alaska's oil should not be its only future

Clem Tillion
OPINION: If Alaska maximizes the returns on our commonly owned resources, and manages them well, the state has a great future. Pictured, left to right: Pres. Dwight Eisenhower, Alaska Territorial Gov. Mike Stepovich, and Secretary of the Interior Fred Seaton, gathered around an Anchorage Times that announces Alaska's admission to the union. July 1, 1958. Candace Waugmaman Collection, UAF-2006-154-8, Archives, University of Alaska Fairbanks (cropped)

I did not intend to say much on the subject of Ballot Measure 1, but when I received a call from a TV reporter who was looking for an old-timer who was voting no, all I could say was, "Keep looking!" I, for one, am a yes vote. This is not to say ACES should not be looked at by the lawmakers. It's sloppy in spots, but I hardly think giving our resources away is the way to solve the problem.

When I ran for the Legislature back in 1962, oil only paid a 1 percent royalty. The first big find at Swanson River on the Kenai Peninsula did not return enough to the state to pave the North Road from Kenai out to Swanson River. It did make millionaires of several people, and this I do not object to, for those who put their money on the line and win should get a fair reward.

The thing that seems to be overlooked here is that Alaska is the only land grant state in the union. Other states have land grant colleges, but we received 100 million acres in addition to the 3 million we were first offered at statehood to enable us as a people to go out and, in Alaska's name, pick the land and its subsurface wealth to help sustain this vast area with so few people.

Bill Egan was our first governor, and he sent his Commissioner of Natural Resources Phil Holdsworth, out to pick the land that was to give Alaska a chance. He selected Prudhoe Bay among many other spots.

Our first big fight in the Legislature was to raise from 1 percent to 12.5 percent the royalty on all Alaska oil. It was a bitter fight. However, enough rebels on both side of the aisle were determined to not only raise the royalty but insist that on top of the people's share, there should be enough tax to cover the cost of roads, sewer, police, and fire needed in the areas being developed. Some said the industry would leave, but what we asked for was no larger a share than a Texas rancher demanded on the land he owned. It was in place when the leases were granted for Prudhoe and our first $900-million windfall came to the state.

When the Legislature next met, we hired Walter Levy, a well-known oilman, to give us advice. He first asked a question, "If all oil stopped tomorrow and never another drop came, would you be better or worse off than before oil came? If the answer was worse off, you are doing something wrong." He went on to say, "Oil by its very nature is but an enclave within your state. To consider it part of your long-range economy is to court disaster. A hundred years from now the only person to see Prudhoe Bay will be an Eskimo looking for a caribou."

If we maximize the returns from our resources and manage them well, Alaska has a great future. Some of the bureaucratic stumbling blocks we burden all our business with are more counterproductive. Some are more harassment than regulation. This is what we should be addressing; not giving our children's inheritance away. For those of us whose families have a lifetime commitment to Alaska, we feel yes is the only vote.

Clem Tillion is a retired commercial fisherman and a nine-term former Alaska state legislator. He lives in Halibut Cove, near Homer.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.