Alaskans note lack of input in pushback against Arctic plan

  • President Barack Obama toasts Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during a State Dinner in the East Room of the White House on March 10. The two leaders announced an agreement on Arctic issues that day, drawing a strong reaction from Alaskan leaders who said they were not consulted on the framework or objectives for the plan. Photo/Jacquelyn Martin/AP

Alaska’s leaders in Juneau and Congress had harsh words for a joint March 10 statement from the White House and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announcing plans for new emissions caps on the oil and gas industry and preservation of significant chunks territory in each country’s Arctic.

The statement was released as Trudeau made the first official visit by a Canadian prime minister to the White House in nearly two decades.

“Beyond deepening cooperation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions — which will have an outsized impact on the long-term health of the global Arctic — President Obama and Prime Minister Trudeau are announcing a new partnership to embrace the opportunities and to confront the challenges in the changing Arctic, with indigenous and northern partnerships, and responsible, science-based leadership,” the statement reads.

It asks the leaders of all Arctic nations to embrace the objectives of conserving Arctic biodiversity, incorporating traditional indigenous knowledge in decision-making, supporting strong Arctic communities and building a sustainable economy in the region.

The U.S. took chairmanship of the international Arctic Council last year from Canada, which held the post starting in 2013.  The council is a non-binding body of eight Arctic nations meant to spur positive relationships between the countries on Arctic issues. Secretary of State John Kerry led U.S. representation at an Arctic Council meeting in Fairbanks the following week.

Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan and Gov. Bill Walker all noted the omission of Alaska in drafting the 10-page agreement in formal statements of their own. The sentiment is similar to comments made following the president’s three-day visit to Alaska last summer, which was used as a vehicle to promote his climate change policies.

“The Arctic presents great opportunity for our state and our nation to prosper in a global economy. However, the way to achieve that is by greater federal investment in our state’s Arctic development efforts, and not the restrictive policies that were presented today,” Walker said March 10. “It is important to consider the interests of all stakeholders in the region – whether it be focused on marine and wildlife preservation, international travel and shipping, or natural resource development. In doing so, we will ensure Alaska and the United States remain at the forefront of a flourishing Arctic economy.”

Walker has said he pushes Obama to allow for oil and gas exploration on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge each time he meets with the president, despite actions from the White House to move further towards preservation, not development, of the area.

Specifically, the U.S.-Canadian Arctic plan calls for protecting at least 17 percent of the countries’ Arctic land and 10 percent of far north marine waters by 2020.

Obama and Trudeau also agreed to the “ambitious and achievable” goal of reducing methane emissions from oil and gas operations by up to 45 percent below 2012 levels by 2025, according to the statement. Further, both countries also endorsed the World Bank’s initiative to eliminate routine methane flaring from oil and gas facilities by 2030.

Methane is the primary component of natural gas.

“Recognizing the role that carbon markets can play in helping countries achieve their climate targets while also driving low-carbon innovation, both countries commit to work together to support robust implementation of the carbon markets-related provisions of the Paris (climate) agreement” reached in December, the joint statement reads.

The countries would also be required to consult each other before approving future oil and gas development in the Arctic.

Murkowski called the consultation requirement “simply stunning” in a release from her office. She also said by focusing almost solely on climate change in regards to the Arctic, the Obama administration fails to address other needs in the region, namely economic development.

“Although the joint statement makes topical reference to consultation with indigenous people and the incorporation of traditional knowledge into decision-making, it also implies unjustifiable limits that will leave Alaskans standing at the door, rather than seated at the table, on Arctic policy,” Murkowski said.

The announcement was not received kindly by the largest private employer in Alaska and the Native regional corporation for the North Slope.

“Unfortunately, this is the treatment we’ve come to expect from this administration,” said Arctic Slope Regional Corp. president and CEO Rex A. Rock Sr. “Although these burdensome and largely unnecessary regulations will negatively impact the economy and the people of our region, Alaska’s North Slope, we continue to be completely left out of the conversation when the rules are being drafted. It appears, by all counts, the only side the administration bothered to reach out and listen to was the environmental groups, like the Center for Biological Diversity, World Wildlife Fund and National Resources Defense Council.

“Make no mistake, this agreement isn’t the final word; we will fight for keeping the door of opportunity open across the Slope.”

Environmental groups noted by Rock hailed the announcement as leadership towards protecting one of the world’s most delicate environments.

To achieve the methane reduction goals the Environmental Protection Agency and Environment and Climate Change Canada will develop new regulations governing methane emissions from existing oil and gas sources as soon as possible. The EPA will quickly begin a process requiring producers operating existing methane emissions sources to provide data that will assist in developing “comprehensive standards to decrease methane emissions,” according to the joint statement.

The proposed actions will harm the nation’s energy sector, and in-turn could impact the lives of hundreds of millions of Americans that rely on low-cost energy for their quality of life, Sullivan said, adding they could be “particularly devastating” for Alaska at a time when the state needs oil and gas revenue more than ever.

“If the initiatives are enacted, less oil and gas will be produced in our state, more jobs will be lost, and state coffers will be increasingly diminished,” he said. “Now is the time when Alaska needs a federal government that will work with the state, instead of working against us to stymie economic opportunity.”

Arctic fisheries were also addressed in that Obama and Trudeau are calling for an international agreement to preemptively close unregulated fishing in the central Arctic Ocean, an area that is increasingly accessible as summer sea ice continues its retreat.

Elwood Brehmer can be reached at elwood.brehmer@alaskajournal.com.

 

Updated: 
03/16/2016 - 2:27pm

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