ECON 919 - A new voice in the development debate

Jun 7, 2019


This week, getting to know the latest advocacy group trying to leave its mark on Alaska’s energy sector.


Power the Future is a relatively new group. In December, it hired a state director for Alaska, Rick Whitbeck. He told a joint meeting of the Kenai and Soldotna Chambers of Commerce this week that they would be aggressive in trying to frame a conversation about development versus conservation, and they’re having that conversation with legislators, too.

“The message that we’re giving to them is the same message I’m giving to you today. Number one, Alaska’s energy and resource development workforce is a keystone for this state. Its importance cannot be overlooked. It has an every day impact on our lives whether we’re directly employed in the industry or not. It’s one that needs to be protected in the future.”

Whitbeck downplayed the after-effects of all that development on the climate, saying the jobs  it creates are more important.

“I’m going to give any of you guys who might be tinged by the thought that Mother Earth should be protected at all costs credit for your passion. But there are hundreds of millions of dollars...spent in the U.S. to wipe out almost 100,000 jobs. They’re not coming back. My question to people who want to continue to do damage to those jobs, is why? Why don’t you work on the technology and with industry to more safely, more effectively, more efficiently keep people at work, keep families whole?”

Of course like in most industries, energy producers in Alaska, like ConocoPhillips are always looking for new technology that may replace workers, but Whitbeck says they plan to take aim at environmental groups, like the National Resources Defense Council or Cook Inlet Keeper, in the name of protecting resource extraction jobs.

“They tie up every possible development project in frivolous lawsuits until they either win or until the companies they’re fighting just cry Uncle and give up. They get their money from groups like the 1630 Fund based off the east coast, Rockefeller Foundation out of New York, Bloomberg Foundation out of New York, New Venture Fund out of Washington, D.C. Groups with their eyes on Alaska for what I think and what Power the Future thinks are all the wrong reasons.”

Whitbeck was able to rattle off some of those funding sources because many of them are 501(c)(3) organizations, and have to disclose their donors. But you won’t find much information about who’s funding Power the Future. As a 501(c)(4), it can take advantage of so-called dark money, meaning, they don’t have to disclose their funding sources. Whitbeck said only that their funding is private. But the group’s founder offers some clues. Power to the Future was started last year by a guy named Daniel Turner. Turner has worked as Director of Strategic Communications for the Charles Koch Institute and also as VP of Communications for another Koch-related group, Generation Opportunity. And while a 501(c)(4) can legally lobby as much as it wants, Whitbeck says they intend only to challenge the message of environmental groups

“And we’re going to ensure that eco-groups are held accountable for activities that are damaging to Alaska’s future. And we’re going to do it aggressively. More aggressively than most policy organizations. When I was looking at this job, I talked to (Alaska Oil and Gas Association), I talked to the (Support Industry Alliance), I talked to the state Chamber, I talked to the forest association and I said hey guys, what do you do really well and where do you see a gap? What can we do to supplement and augment what you’re already doing? And they said hold the NGOs accountable. I was like, beautiful. We can do that. So, whether it’s op-eds or talks like this, we’re going to do it because energy and natural resource development workers are worthy of the support and the anti-job, anti-community, anti-development is damaging to Alaska.”

In other words, another group funded by Outside interests, trying to make a case for what’s best for Alaska’s future.

Now, for this week’s number: 46, gigawatts. As long as we’re talking about energy, that’s how much solar capacity is currently installed in Germany, accounting for as much as ten percent of its electric demand. And Germany not exactly known as a susnshine state, its solar resources are comparable to those in Alaska, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.