In the great state of Alaska, we are preparing to celebrate our 50th anniversary of statehood and, though young in years, we have a long history of economic cooperation and partnership with Washington, our sister state.
Beginning in the 1890s with the Klondike Gold Rush, hopeful migrants launching from Washington and California and beyond, arrived to stake their claim in Alaska’s gold fields; first in Skagway, and then into the Interior and over to Nome. As a result, Alaska’s economic and cultural landscape was forever changed, and the Alaska-Washington connection continues to be an important economic bridge between our two states.
The construction of the oil pipeline in the 1970s brought droves of workers — many from Washington — to Alaska, this time to release our “black gold” from the earth. Many of these workers were employed during the construction stages and even after completion of the pipeline. Today, Alaska continues its partnership with Washington through the shipping and refining of Alaska’s oil. Of the roughly 700,000 barrels of oil produced in Alaska every day, approximately 400,000 of those barrels are shipped out of Valdez to Washington where they are refined and distributed.
As the present relationship between our two states is based on a rich history of shared economic interests, our future is also filled with potential. With the passage of the Alaska Gasline Inducement Act by the Alaska Legislature last year, we are closer than ever to tapping into and sharing our natural gas resources with the rest of the nation. With modern science and technology, we know we can build and operate this gas pipeline safely and efficiently, and Alaskans are eager to move forward — both to ease the crippling cost of energy we experience in-state and to lessen America’s dependence on foreign energy. As we move towards readiness to produce, we know we have a strong partner in Washington.
One of the strongest Alaska-Washington connections is tourism. The historic link between Seattle, Alaska, and the Yukon has been a major tourist attraction for years. When U.S. Customs and Border Protection was considering the reinterpretation of the Passenger Vessel Services Act, governors and congressional delegations from both states worked hard to limit the scope of the change so that it would not severely impact the cruise ship industry. In 2008 alone, 175 voyages and more than 403,000 cruise ship passengers to Alaska began their cruise in Seattle, an increase of at least 42 percent over the last four years.
Essentially, Washington has been a staging ground in Alaska’s economic and resource development. The symbiotic relationship between our two states encompasses oil shipping, refining, and distribution; seafood harvesting and sales; travel by air, land and sea; health care; timber; and tourism, just for starters. Our major airline provider, Alaska Airlines, is based in Seattle; roughly 65 percent of Alaska’s daily oil supply is processed in Washington refineries; our seafood is served in the finest restaurants, and the Alaska Marine Highway System serves both states well, with 70 percent of Alaska-bound cargo passing through the Port of Tacoma and accounting for about 25 percent of the port’s business.
Alaska’s relationship with Washington is also a valuable asset for disaster preparedness and response capacity in defense of the health and well-being of both states’ residents. Alaska’s Departments of Health and Social Services and Military and Veterans Affairs have ongoing dialogue with their Washington counterparts to ensure mutual support during disasters. Alaska and Washington are signatories to The Pacific Northwest Emergency Management Agreement (PNEMA), which allows sharing of resources during times of emergency. PNEMA was recently updated to include specific provisions for mutual emergency medical support and was tested in real public health emergencies during 2007 and 2008 for infectious disease outbreaks on Alaska’s North Slope.
As a resource-rich state, we Alaskans are conscious of how much both our states benefit from our current partnership. Looking into Alaska’s future, we anticipate developing and distributing our natural gas resources, along with our nearly limitless opportunities for alternative and renewable energy; harvesting our delicious Alaska seafood for abundance; and welcoming ever-increasing numbers of visitors into our state. As we do so, we are committed to strengthening the vital relationship Alaska and Washington enjoy today.