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Alaskan Energy Matters | Commentary

By Richard Pombo Americans understand energy is a building block of our nation and economy. It heats our homes and businesses, fuels transportation and employs hundreds of thousands — touching every facet of our lives.  

As a cattle rancher, I saw how energy costs affected my day-to-day life. As a former chairman of the House Resources Committee, I explored the math and science behind these impacts. The conclusion was clear: Energy is a critical resource we must support. It dictates our budgets, provides billions in government revenue and creates jobs.  

President Barack Obama's administration appears to be ignoring these facts. Last month, the president announced he was designating 12 million acres in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as wilderness, preventing development of its rich resources despite a decades-old congressional agreement intending the opposite. Afterward, it denied drilling in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas. These decisions, combined, ensure that millions of barrels of oil and gas are made off-limits to consumers — and the nation's concerns are mounting, as evidenced by remarks made a recent Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on Arctic opportunities.  

I've visited the North Slope of Alaska, including ANWR, many times. It is a vast, beautiful, and unique landscape that should be protected and preserved. But it is also about the size of South Carolina. And if energy production occurred in the 1002 area of ANWR, it would take place on a fraction of the land, comparable to the size of Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C.  

I visited the area in the winter when it was 40 below zero and there was no sunlight, as well as in the summer when it was 32 degrees and sunlit for 24 hours. I also held an official congressional hearing in Kaktovik, where the locals traveled as much as 100 miles on snow machines to voice their support for limited, responsible energy development.  

Sadly, Obama seems to have fallen prey to the false choice presented by anti-development activists focused on locking up access to Alaskan resources — to either protect the environment or progress and development. Americans do not have to choose between energy independence and protecting our environment. We can do both.  

Indeed, technology and American workers have enabled us to produce energy in the Arctic with environmental safety. As the world's leader in environmental protection, it is irresponsible for us to import oil from unstable, foreign countries that produce it recklessly. We can and must do our national security, environment and economy a great service by supporting Arctic energy production.  

Regrettably, these decisions may spell doom for the vital Trans-Alaska Pipeline System, an 800-mile engineering wonder has carried an average of 9 percent of our daily consumption since its start. At its peak, it transported 2 million barrels of oil per day — 3 percent of the world's crude — over its length in just three days. Thanks to bad energy policy decisions, TAPS now carries just a quarter of this amount, and takes five times as long. This puts the pipeline at risk for corrosion and clogs — and of being shut down.  

By law, TAPS will be permanently closed if production drops below a certain minimum. Considering the pipeline still transports slightly more than 5 percent of our domestic crude production and provides 90 percent of Alaska's general fund revenue despite being down to 500,000 barrels per day, shutting down TAPS would be devastating to Alaska and America alike.  

It would be especially devastating to the West Coast — in areas such as my home state of California — where net imports from foreign nations, including Russia, have more than tripled since the late 1980s to 42.1 percent. With the West Coast spending more than $267 million per day on oil despite the U.S. shale energy revolution occurring in other parts of the country, it's ridiculous we are still so dependent on foreign, unstable countries when we have such energy resource potential here. The amount of imports required would go up exponentially if TAPS were closed.  

On an issue as important as energy, keep the bull on the ranch, not in the midst of a political discussion. The administration's policies need to change. We need to increase exploration, development and production, all of which can be done safely, sustainably and environmentally consciously. Isn't it better if we control every aspect instead of an unstable foreign nation?  

The survival of TAPS is critical to our survival and success. Production matters, and it is high time for the administration to understand this.  

Richard Pombo is the former congressman from California's 11th congressional district. He served as the chairman of the House Committee on Resources. He is now a partner with Gavel Resources. The 114th: CQ Roll Call's Guide to the New Congress Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.

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