US Arctic priorities shortchange Alaskans’ needs, Senate panel told

As the US prepares to chair the Arctic Council later this year, it recognizes that international decisions can directly affect Alaska and its residents and plans to closely engage with them, Adm. Robert J. Papp Jr., the US Department of State’s Special Representative for the Arctic, told the US Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

As the US prepares to chair the Arctic Council later this year, it recognizes that international decisions can directly affect Alaska and its residents and plans to closely engage with them, Adm. Robert J. Papp Jr., the US Department of State’s Special Representative for the Arctic, told the US Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

But two members of the state’s legislature and the North Slope Borough’s mayor expressed concern at the committee’s Mar. 5 hearing that Obama administration policies could block economic growth from future oil and gas resource development as environmental protection is emphasized.

“We would like to remind the committee that people live in the Arctic,” Sen. Lesil McGuire (R-Anchorage) and Rep. Bob Herron (D-Bethel) jointly said in their written testimony as the Alaska Arctic Policy Commission’s co-chairs. “It is all of our responsibility to treat these communities like we treat any other community: with respect and dignity.

They said, “Efforts by the [US] Executive Branch to lock up our land, to stifle our ability to economically develop and adapt to new climate situations is not just a disservice to Alaskans, it is a disservice to the country. Alaskans do not live in a snow globe; we live in the United States.”

North Slope Mayor Charlotte Bower said in her written statement that anyone traveling to Alaska’s North Slope 70 years ago would have found a semi-nomadic people subsisting off the land and living much as their ancestors did. The discovery of crude oil along Prudhoe Bay in the 1960s changed all that, she observed.

“In a period of roughly 30 years, we experienced over 200 years’ worth of development and advancement,” Bower said. Property taxes collected from oil and gas operations still account for more than 97% of the borough’s revenue for public serves, and generates private sector revenue streams and jobs through local and regional Native corporations which are distributed as dividends locally, she said.

Not mutually exclusive

“Our experiences have also taught us that natural resource development and a healthy environment are not mutually exclusive goals,” Bower said. “Billions of barrels of oil have been extracted from the North Slope without any significant spills or environmental damage. We have watched the Central Arctic caribou herd, which calves throughout Prudhoe Bay, thrive. And our borough instituted a robust permitting system that drives the oil industry to minimize and mitigate negative impacts.”

Federal land management decisions and policies aimed at blocking further resource development across the US Arctic would end this era of prosperity, she warned. “And when these decisions are made without meaningful local input, they are at best paternalistic, and at worst exploitative,” Bower said.

Papp said DOS’s aim is to promote good governance and environmentally responsible development of all energy resources—both oil and gas production and renewable energy—with an emphasis on consistency among Arctic states and environmental sustainability.

“We are committed to implementing international agreements to reduce the risk of marine oil pollution, conducting international joint oil spill response exercises, and increasing global capabilities for preparedness and response to oil pollution incidents in the Arctic,” he said.

“Collaborating closely with domestic agencies, it is the aim of [DOS] to work with stakeholders, industry, and the other Arctic states to understand the energy resource base, develop and implement best practices, and share knowledge and experience,” Papp testified.

McGuire and Herron said AAPC has told DOS that it can’t solve a global issue such as climate change by hamstringing Alaska’s ability to develop its resource responsibly. “Adaptation is the key,” they said. “However, in order for Alaskans to have the capacity to adapt to a changing climate, we must have the freedom of self-determination…. Alaska should not have to ask for permission to develop our resources or our people. If this administration is not going to be our advocate, the least [it] could do would be [to] avoid being our opponent.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

More in Economics & Markets