Norway’s Lessons Are Alaska’s To Learn
Alaskans are a bunch of people who want to be around a bunch of people who don’t want to be around a bunch of people.
By Shannyn Moore
I once saw a bush pilot restart his plane with the gum wrapper off a piece of Big Red. I asked him if it would work. He smiled and said, “It’ll get me to where I can get what I need.”
That seems to be a prevailing philosophy here. Tyvek is not siding, but it’ll keep the wind out.
In May a delegation of Alaska lawmakers will head to Norway. The intellectually incurious are already pulling their heads out of the ground to complain.
Not only do I want them to go, I hope they take notes.
Norway is the world’s eighth-largest oil producer and third-largest oil exporter. Ninety-nine percent of Norway’s electricity is hydroelectric. Because of investment in renewable energy, the Norwegians have more oil to sell. They are the envy of Europe.
In 1972 Norway formed a state-owned oil company to compete with Big Oil. The company, Statoil, now operates worldwide, including in Alaska. Kinda makes me wish we had bought ARCO when it was on the block.
This week, Sen. Mark Begich announced a proposal to streamline the Arctic drilling approval process. There was no mention of the spill prevention technologies Norway has demanded of its producers since 1993.
The Norwegian Oil Spill Control Association says on its website, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” and the group means it. The Norwegians develop new oil spill technologies before they find themselves in the middle of one. Active preparedness, rather than reaction to crisis, is their philosophy.
With all the oil taxation drama during the legislative session, it’s interesting to note that the effective tax rate in Norway is 78 percent — significantly higher than the rate of Alaska and the federal government combined.
Alaskans feel good about our $40 billion Permanent Fund, and we should. Norway feels pretty good about its Oil Fund, which is $570 billion. We had a 14-year head start, but Norway saved 14 times as much. Their projections show that by 2030 the worst-case scenario for the fund is $455 billion, while the best-case $19.5 trillion, savings greater than our national debt.
I guess that’s the difference between an owner-state and an owner-country. Our legislative stalemate is about Gov. Sean Parnell threatening lawmakers who opposed his $2 billion annual oil bailout. Among the items threatened are renewable energy projects.
In 2004 the Norwegians created an ethics panel for their fund. They employ stringent guidelines and standards for investment. They don’t invest in companies involved in tobacco, weapons, environmental damage, human rights violations or unethical labor practices. Last year they included, “Violation of the Geneva Convention in occupied Palestinian territory by being involved in developing settlements.”
As a result, they dumped 45 companies deemed unethical. Alaska currently holds stock in 37 of the companies that couldn’t make the grade for Norwegian investment.
We spend resources on tobacco prevention, but invest our Permanent Fund in Phillip Morris. We own $34 million in UnitedHealth Group, which is considerably less than the $102 million paid to the company’s CEO last year. We own Exxon stock but never had a governor show up at a shareholder meeting to demand the money owed to damaged Alaskans. War machines GE, Halliburton and KBR are fueled by our investment. We bought Walmart stock; the Norwegians dumped it for “breach of human and labor rights.”
I know, I know, “just move there if you love it so much.” Why is that the answer? Norway’s wildly successful fund isn’t the result of lowering the bar, but raising it. The Norwegian investment in companies developing renewable energy, developing resources responsibly and respecting the dignity of working men and women have helped those companies grow.
Maybe we need to be like the pilot who gum-wrappered his plane to get closer to what he really needed. Like Norway, our resource can be used to get us where we want to go.
This week, a KGOP radio host was appalled. “What could we possibly learn from Norway?”
He could have asked: “Why would I put siding on my house when I’ve got Tyvek?”
Because it’s better, that’s why.
***Originally published in the Anchorage Daily News.