By Rena Delbridge
The $750 billion spent annually on imported oil is a major cause of the collapse of America's financial markets and, if not addressed, could further undermine the economy.
That's what Alaska Rep. Don Young said Thursday during a video conference at the Alaska State Chamber of Commerce's annual convention in Fairbanks. Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Ted Stevens also spoke.
"It is still unraveling," Murkowski said. "I don't know there is any one of us that will tell you the worst has come and gone. This is a crisis for our country. ... We don't know how far it goes."
She said government should be cautious in taking any action until the full extent of the problem is clear.
Stevens agreed that the billions spent on foreign fuel are hurting the U.S., and said Alaska could be a leader in tipping the scales.
They also agreed the $750 billion could be reinvested in developing America's own resources, which could also spur the economy.
"This is a national issue," Young said. "I do believe we're going to see a solution to this problem in this next Congress, because the public is beginning to demand it."
He blamed the Democrats and, in particular, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., for refusing to develop fossil fuels. Young said an energy bill passed by the House earlier this week is a "Peter Pan" plan, "all imagination."
"We have to put together a package that is bipartisan that produces energy in this country," he said. Such a plan would allow off-shore drilling, permit revenue sharing with coastal states, and ban lawsuits aimed at blocking that offshore development, he elaborated.
The audience in Fairbanks wanted to know what the delegation's thoughts were on the $1,200 resource rebate eligible Alaskans are receiving.
Young said Alaska should put its capital to work producing energy by funding development of the state's vast resources.
"So far, other than passing dollars out, there's been no solution to the problem," he said. "Let's have an energy policy in the state. Invest the money, make it work."
Murkowski said while the rebates will help many families bridge the gap this winter, Alaska needs to help itself in other ways.
"When we get the request to help us with the intertie project, or help us with this geothermal project, what we hear is well, gee whiz Alaska, you just gave everybody $3,200 this year. What are you doing to build this permanent energy infrastructure?" she said. "We've got to figure out how we fund long-term solutions so we don't do this Band-Aid approach."
Stevens agreed Alaska is in a tough spot when it comes to asking for energy help in Washington, D.C. Other politicians are hard-pressed to offer aid when the state doles out oil revenue through the Permanent Fund and adds short-term energy relief without making significant investment in infrastructure.
The audience also wanted to know what the politicians thought about Gov. Sarah Palin running for vice president.
If the Republicans win the White House, Palin would preside over the Senate and would cast the deciding vote in case of a tie.
Stevens said that power could be a real advantage for Alaska issues, citing a 1973 tie-breaking vote by Vice President Spiro Agnew that gave the initial go-ahead to the oil pipeline.
"It's a very close balance between the parties," Stevens said. "Regardless of who controls the Senate, the chance of a tie vote is so very, very possible in the next two years."
He commented on how well Palin's candidacy is promoting Alaska.
"A friend in Juneau told me, if the chamber of commerce had tried to get the kind of advertising she's brought to Alaska just so far, it would cost a billion dollars," Stevens said.