Permanent Put-Ons

Aug 7, 2010 by

I heard Dan kvetch about the state of affairs too many times over the phone while we were traveling up north.

“Why in hell doesn’t Louisiana have something like that?” he asked our pal Justin once. “All these years of leasing spots for everybody in the world to drill offshore and nobody down south thought of doing what Alaska did.”

It was a revolutionary thing at the time, and it still is: when a massive reservoir of oil was discovered in Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay, it sparked off equal parts elation and intense skepticism. Boom days had arrived – again – brought on by black gold this time. Concerns over the environmental and social changes brought by that lucky strike, however, were stronger than ever before…especially once the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS) had its funding approved and its construction began. Enter the financial negotiations over who would benefit from all of this over a much longer run than the oil would presumably have running down 798 miles from Prudhoe Bay to tankers in Valdez…

…and hello to the Alaska Permanent Fund. Even if it does make recipients of its annual dividends conflicted to this day:

I don’t think (the pipeline) is pretty. I think it’s an excellent symbol of what’s wrong with a species that takes more than it needs. Though it provides me with a big check each year and strengthens the state to the point that I have a job, I think Alaska would be better off without it. But the pipeline is here, I don’t refuse my Permanent Fund dividend checks, and I drive. Almost all my outdoor gear – from boot soles to tent to polypropylene underwear – is made from the goop inside the pipeline. The pipeline is not offensive enough to cause me pain.*

Sure, there had been other concerns about Alaska’s natural beauty and quality of life being despoiled before the TAPS was even a thought in engineers’ and legislators’ minds – but none stood to benefit the state so directly, or change the state as drastically…which brings me back to Dan’s question…

The best perspectives on this, in my opinion, are in this Washington Post article and Mark Moseley’s (aka, Oyster’s) articles for The Lens here and here. The Post article points out that Huey Long did establish a permanent fund – but it was designed to benefit his family only, despite his posturing against oil monopolies such as Standard Oil…which established another political precedent for Louisiana politicians over the next bunch of decades: speaking loudly and bombastically against these companies only when it is in the best interests of one’s life in public office. Actually following the words up with actions against the oil leases that had turned into a cash cow for certain powerful factions in the state is not an option in Louisiana.

Simply put – our history here has doomed us to be slaves to the oil.

And even our increased knowledge of how the Mississippi delta works in a much greater ecological system that we’ve altered through corralling the river in a massive levee system – and through the continued dumping of silt right into the Gulf, along with whatever chemicals have made their way from further upriver to contribute to the Gulf’s “dead zone” – isn’t helping to change things. The further impression being given through the mainstream media and the downsizing of cleanup operations in the Gulf by BP is that all of this is much ado about nothing. Why? Because, it seems, despite all our awareness of how harmful all of this can be over the long run, it is today that matters. And today, money talks and environmental, physical, and mental damage is told to take a hike.

And Louisiana keeps taking it, because most people here never have thought to do otherwise until fairly recently.

What hints can we take from our neighbors up north?

Keep tabs on where our money is going. Demand better from the people we elect to handle the money. Demand more from the people who keep screwing around with our wetlands and polluting our water. And, at long last, take care of each other.

Gee, sounds more like a blueprint for how this whole country should behave.


P.S. My journal entries from my recent trip to Alaska are up (start from the bottom of the page and read your way up), as are my photos from Alaska and Denali (just for you, Lord David!).


*from Ned Rozell’s Walking My Dog, Jane: From Valdez to Prudhoe Bay Along the Trans-Alaska Pipeline

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