In less than a week, President Obama and a massive team of White House officials will touch down at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson (JBER) for their first official visit to Alaska and the U.S. Arctic. With the rumor mill still churning, the only official word so far are stops in Anchorage, Seward, Dillingham and Kotzebue to discuss what the president has described as the greatest threat to national security – climate change. Some have called the visit historic – a moment to be celebrated and embraced – I, however, am far less optimistic, especially given the president's recent track record in Alaska.
Over the past six-and-a-half-years, President Obama and his administration have aggressively pushed to make good on a 2008 campaign promise to "fundamentally change the United States of America." Sadly, that attitude and mission has made a complete mockery out of the principals of federalism and the 10th Amendment. Their efforts continue to ignore states like Alaska that rely on our lands, waters and abundant natural resources to provide for our communities and local economies.
This administration's aggressive top-down agenda has and continues to restrict economic growth and damage the ability for our people to provide for themselves. Their onslaught of federal rules and regulations – never passed by Congress or subject to legitimate public input by local communities – have managed to lock away millions of acres of public lands, halt responsible resource development and production on land and offshore, and taken Alaskan and American jobs off the table at a time when we need them most. There's no question the long term impacts of these decisions will have a devastating effect on our state. So to say I'm skeptical of the president's intentions is an understatement.
Since the president announced his travels to Alaska last month, my message has been clear: this visit must not be used as a platform to pander to the nation's most extreme interests groups, but as an opportunity to see the many challenges and hurdles Alaskans face each and every day. With more than 80 percent of our communities off the road system, we face some of the most basic and fundamental obstacles: high energy and food costs, extreme poverty, drug and alcohol abuse, limited access to basic goods and services like medical care, Internet, and even running water. At a time when much of the nation has the luxury to sit back and discuss our problems, many Alaskans are living them. By using our state as a poster child for a reckless environmental agenda, the president fails to recognize the harsh realities facing numerous Alaskans.
As the only member of Congress from above the Arctic Circle, I have consistently fought for the real world needs of Alaska and the Arctic. With the help of the Congressional delegation, I have worked for new infrastructure and development projects in the region, including responsible resource extraction, deep water ports, navigational aids, and mapping of the sea floor. Through the creation of the Congressional Arctic Working Group and the Senate Arctic Caucus, we have made serious efforts to bring attention to the political realities of the region, particularly important as Russia expands its military footprint by reopening Soviet-era military bases and positioning four new combat brigades above the Arctic Circle. Even with the cynicism I share towards the president's travel, I recently wrote the White House to encourage vocal support for a broad range of options to fund, develop and construct new icebreaker vessels – something we desperately need.
With the eyes of world upon us as the United States begins its two-year chairmanship of the Arctic Council, we must continue to push this Administration to lead on a wide range of Arctic issues and not simply the issues of climate change. Ultimately, this conversation must recognize the needs of people and include efforts to responsibly manage and develop our God given resources. Alaskans deserve an all of the above approach that supports traditional and alternative energy sources, not a systematic veto on specific industries and economic opportunity.
As Alaskans prepare for the President's visit, we must do our best to remind him that we seek policies that empower our people and state, not the federal government. We are not just a fancy photo on a postcard or a green screen backdrop for the anti-resource development agenda; we are a unique and diverse people that rely upon our lands and our resources to survive. If this visit is simply a platform for the "we know best" environmental agenda, I suggest the President save the manpower, taxpayer resources, and countless gallons of jet fuel, and give that stump speech from somewhere else.
Rep. Don Young, a Republican, has served in the U.S. House of Representatives since 1973.