SPEECH: Seattle Chamber of Commerce

Amy, thanks for your kind introduction.  Thank you all for that warm Washington welcome.  And thank you all for being here, early on a beautiful Friday morning. 

I actually fly through Seattle most weekends on my way back home, it’s usually just lunch at Beecher’s or breakfast in the Board Room on Friday and Monday.

I’m certainly not alone among the Alaskans who regularly find themselves in Seattle.  We probably have quite a few here with us today.  This isn’t just a midpoint or a layover in our travels.  We come here to shop, to vacation, to visit with family and friends to play, and – of course – for business. Your professional sports teams are our sports teams. We wear blue and green and celebrate Russell Wilson with you.

It’s the latter of those topics that I want to focus on today.  And I want to start by commending this Chamber for updating its “Ties That Bind” report earlier this year, to again highlight the close connections between Alaska and Puget Sound.

You know the numbers as well as anyone: some 113,000 jobs in the Puget Sound region were tied to Alaska-related commerce in 2013.  So were some $6.2 billion in wages.  From the days of the Gold Rush onward, my home state and your home sound have developed a strong and lasting relationship.  We’re long-time partners in trade, services, seafood, energy, tourism, transportation, finance, real estate, and many other important industries.  I probably flew here on your Boeing jet fueled by our oil!

I enjoyed reading through “Ties That Bind” because it looks at our States through a different prism than we would normally apply.  Puget Sound residents operate close to 1,000 commercial fishing vessels in Alaska.  More than 1 million passengers fly through Seattle to reach Alaska each year.  Much of the oil for your refineries comes from our fields.  And Lynden – our sponsor this morning – has been hauling goods back and forth to Alaska for more than 60 years.

The challenge – especially for those of us in this room – is to keep this relationship growing, so that the people of Alaska and Puget Sound can have better lives.  And I’m optimistic we can make that happen.  There is considerable opportunity, in just about every sector, for deeper ties between our States. 

Today, I want to highlight a couple that stand out.

The first area is seafood – the fisheries industry.  “Ties That Bind” tells us “Puget Sound is home to 36 processing companies that accounted for 82 percent of total first wholesale value of Alaska seafood production in 2013.”  We have the fish, but many of the management, marketing, and support companies that make the industry successful are based here.  Virtually every business in the Seattle region benefits from commercial fishing in Alaska.

The federal law governing our commercial activity is named after a Senator from Washington and a Senator from Alaska.  The Magnuson-Stevens Act is also due for reauthorization, which means we have an opportunity to further improve our policies in this area. 

By working together, we can strengthen this industry for years to come.  We can protect the thousands of jobs this industry provides in both of our States.  And we can create more jobs, even as we keep our seafood harvests both world-class and sustainable.  

I also see great promise in energy – and right now, that’s another area where a Senator from Alaska and a Senator from Washington have an opportunity to write a productive, bipartisan bill.  As Chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, that’s exactly what I’ve set us out to do.   

Senator Cantwell and I are now working to develop what I hope will be a broad bill that reforms and modernizes our nation’s energy policies.  We’re looking at four titles: efficiency, infrastructure, supply, and accountability/reform.  We considered 44 bills over the course of our first two legislative hearings.  We’ll hold two more hearings in the next couple of weeks – and through them, we’ll consider at least 50 more bills. 

This is a serious effort to craft a bipartisan bill that can reach the President’s desk.  You might be wondering – is that actually possible?  And my answer, at least so far, is yes.  We’ve seen tremendous interest from members and stakeholders alike.  And when you consider that we are looking at nearly 100 bills, before even moving to markups and the amendment process, we certainly have enough ideas on the table to assemble a good consensus product.   

With myself and Senator Cantwell atop the Energy Committee, you can also be sure that our energy bill will benefit our home States.  It will help consumers and businesses use energy more efficiently, saving them money and reducing emissions.  It will help ensure that our energy supply is stable, affordable, reliable, increasingly clean, and capable of being delivered when and where it is needed.  At the regulatory level, I’m optimistic that our efforts will help improve broken processes that typically lead to delays, rather than timely answers.   

The final area that I want to discuss with you is a new economic frontier that will bring substantial benefits for Alaska and Washington alike.  By that, I mean the Arctic, and the Arctic opportunity that is in front of us – if we choose to take it.

Explaining why the Arctic should matter to you is an easier sell than to, say, the Chamber of Commerce in Des Moines, Iowa.  You already see the benefits of cargo shipping on a daily basis and recognize the opportunity offered by Arctic maritime routes – whether the Northern Sea Route, the Northwest Passage, or a future trans-polar route. 

You are also participating in scientific research in the Arctic.  The University of Washington, PNNL, and other Washington institutions have been examining the extent of the polar ice cap, ocean acidification, and more.  The National Science Foundation has awarded universities and colleges in Washington more than $26 million in Arctic research grants over the last several years.     

Another key reason to care about the Arctic is trade.  Did you know that nearly 15 percent of Washington’s exports go to the seven other Arctic nations?  The International Trade Administration estimates that in 2014, exports supported close to 400,000 jobs here in Washington State – third-most in the nation, behind only Texas and California.  As the Arctic opens up, Washington, like Alaska, will have new options and new routes to engage in commerce all over the world.

For those who follow Arctic matters, you are aware that the United States is the chair of the Arctic Council for the next two years.  This is an exciting opportunity to highlight a region that most Americans never think about, yet is garnering increased international attention from all around the world. 

It is here in Seattle, at UW, that the Arctic Symposium has been held for the past 2 years.

We also have the chairmanship of the Arctic Economic Council right now.  The goal of that body is to bring businesses and communities in the North together for new investment opportunities.  The AEC is still getting on its feet, but will help bring the collective economic strength of the Arctic together to help develop sustainable economies in some of the most remote locations in the world.                                    

No discussion of our economic opportunities in the Arctic is complete without mentioning resource production.  We are about to head to a question-and-answer session, and I’m fairly confident that one of you will ask, so I want to go ahead and address this issue directly. 

I’m a Senator for Alaska, so you know exactly where I stand.  I strongly support resource development in the Arctic.  I believe it can be done safely, responsibly, to the benefit of the people of both of our States, and without harm to the environment.  That’s exactly what has happened in the past, and I see no reason why it will be any different going forward – with newer technologies and even stronger regulations guiding the way.

For Seattle’s port to be a staging area to the Arctic should not be a contentious issue.  Contrary to some of the claims that we have heard, Arctic resource development is not new.  Onshore we have produced over 17 billion barrels of oil, giving West Coast and even some foreign refineries a stable source of energy for over 35 years.   Exploration drilling started in the Beaufort and Chukchi in 1969 in state waters and in 1985 in federal waters.  More than 300 offshore wells have been drilled in the Arctic in decades past, including more than 100 in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas off of Alaska and Canada. 

If the U.S. engages in Arctic offshore resource development, we will be joining Russia.  We will be joining Canada.  We will be joining Greenland and Norway.  We will be one of the last Arctic nations on the scene, but if we do not develop, we will be one of the only Arctic nations incapable of responding to a foreign spill that could very well affect our waters and our shores.

Stopping domestic oil exploration activity will not end our risks, either.  The last major maritime oil spill in Alaska was a Malaysian freighter carrying soybeans that was transiting the Aleutians on the great circle route.  With our position as the highway between the Pacific Northwest and Asia, Alaskans don’t fight to ban exports of soybeans or trade with Asia – we invest in technology, like the Alaska Marine Exchange, and require industry to support infrastructure that makes emergency response possible. 

I am also concerned by the growing theory that cutting off domestic supply will somehow affect domestic demand.  That has never worked in the past, and it will not work in the future, especially in markets that are well-supplied.  Alaska has an estimated 23 billion barrels of offshore oil.  Saudi Arabia has an estimated 268 billion barrels of oil reserves.  Venezuela has 298 billion barrels of proved reserves.  Cutting off our supply won’t change the source of our energy; it will merely change the source of our supply.          

I can’t tell you what to do, only what I hope you will do.  I hope you will look at the port situation and remember that we are talking about a contractual relationship that brings millions of dollars and hundreds of good jobs to Puget Sound.  People – especially Alaskans – are watching.  Your reputation for fairness is at stake.  One thing we hear all the time back in Washington, DC, is that businesses need predictability and hate uncertainty.  That’s exactly what this situation is creating.  Today it’s a drilling rig.  But what people are asking is, what’s next? Commercial fishing? Cruise ships?

What “Ties that Bind” really gives us is perspective – not just about the past and the present, but also the future.  It shows that when Alaska does well, so does Puget Sound.  That’s no secret, but it underscores why we should be working with each other and looking for places where we can help each other out.  “Ties That Bind” is not a reference to the shackles we try to place on each other’s economic development and economic futures.  It’s about the bonds we form as we do business.  It’s about our mutually beneficial relationship.  What’s good for us is good for you.  When we grow, you grow.  When we prosper, you prosper. 



This area is known as the “Gateway to Alaska.”  From the days of the Gold Rush onward, you have been a staging ground and a launching point for those heading to Alaska.  You have been a partner, an ally, a good neighbor, and a good friend, so don’t lock us out now.  Puget Sound has helped Alaska get to where it is today, and Alaska has in turn contributed to your own remarkable success. Let’s move this Arctic coalition forward.


We have almost limitless potential in front of us, if we can keep this relationship strong.  That should be one of our very top priorities.  And as leaders in Seattle’s business community, I hope you will keep making the case to explain why a strong Alaska is a strong Washington.