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The Alaska Pipeline
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Thirty Years Later: The Trans-Alaska Pipeline Debate

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Moose standing under pipe In the 1970s, the building of the Trans-Alaska pipeline provoked intense feelings. Most people were either strongly for or strongly against the project.

"I know you'd find lots of Alaskans who thought that that was the beginning of the state standing on its own feet and finding its destiny and being able to pay for its own future. I think you'd find an equal number who would think something very special was lost when Alaska put all its eggs in one basket."

-- Howard Weaver, Anchorage Daily News reporter, 1972-1976

For State Officials, a Revenue Source
Many state politicians argued that the Trans-Alaska pipeline would bring Alaska much needed revenue. The state had plenty of wide-open spaces, but what it didn't have were roads, decent health care and good schools. At the helm of the pro-development forces was Governor Walter J. Hickel.

"It's the 11th Commandment. There were only 10. The 11th Commandment is, we've got to build that pipeline, and it was good. It's good for America. It's good for the companies. It's good for the people. It's done right."

--Walter J. Hickel, governor of Alaska, 1966-1969

"There's no such thing as a free lunch. There are always some problems. There's always some price to pay for it. But the price was cheap and the benefit was great."

--Chancy Croft, former Democratic state senator

For Alaska Natives, a Bittersweet Story
Alaskan Natives, perhaps more than any other group, stood to lose the most from the Trans-Alaska pipeline. For years, they had tried unsuccessfully to make a claim to land that was in the hands of both the state and federal governments. The discovery of oil in 1968 changed that. Natives got money, land and political power. But they still lost something precious.

"That thing cut through indigenous land a long ways. That can't help but have an impact directly on life, on hunting, on anything. Then on the other hand during those years we had a lot of poverty, you know, for Alaskan Native people in particular. All of this is a result -- the pipeline is the final thing that happened. And so it's kind of like the final symbol. And that symbol itself, that tangible thing, that pipe that runs through the land is the thing that we have to learn to live with."

-- Diane Benson, former trucker, Tlingit Indian

"We're still Native peoples and we still live and act and speak as Native peoples. We work very hard to make sure that our children know who they are. We've used our own resources to try to strengthen and rebuild those places and those areas, both in our society and on our lands where we've suffered loss. So while it's been very much imperfect, there's no question of that, I'm not sure how much we could have changed or influenced or held back what was happening no matter what."

--Byron Mallott, Native leader, First Alaska Institute

For Environmentalists, a Lost Wilderness
For many environmentalists, the pipeline was a symbol of wilderness lost. The damage was not only environmental, it was psychological as well: Alaska was the last frontier, the last great American wilderness. While they were not successful in stopping the construction of the pipeline, activists did make oil company executives more environmentally aware. What emerged, say the pipeline engineers, was a safer, cleaner, more ecologically conscious pipeline. Even so, the Exxon Valdez oil spill was proof that no system is 100% safe.

"We learn from Alaska that all Americans share in the ownership of its incomparable resources, its wildlife, its irreplaceable beauty, its wilderness. And that what happens in the future will depend on the American people as they raise their voices and express their interest in saving the best of Alaska for future generations, our grandchildren. We as American citizens are in control. We can dictate to our Congress, by expressing our views, becoming active in this controversy. This is our obligation as American citizens."

-- Stewart Brandborg, former director, Wilderness Society

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