Zinke: Role for Alaska in US ‘energy dominance’

  • U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke stands alongside Alaska Federation of Natives President Julie Kitka at the Cook Inlet Region Inc. headquarters in Anchorage on May 30. Zinke said Alaska will play a role in President Donald Trump’s goal of U.S. “energy dominance.” (Photo/Elwood Brehmer/AJOC)

Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke hasn’t been in Alaska long, but he’s got one of the state’s unofficial mottos down.

“Fill the pipeline,” he said during a May 30 press conference in Anchorage.

“The president has said ‘energy dominance,’ and the only way that energy dominance is possible is through the great state of Alaska,” Zinke continued.

Formerly a Republican congressman from Montana, he stressed a desire to “reorganize” the Department of the Interior and rebuild how the agency responsible for managing the vast majority of federal land in the country interacts with state and tribal governments.

“My biggest priority is trust,” he said. “As a steward of our greatest lands, I want to ensure that we are trusted not only by the citizens of the United States, by the Native villages, but also by industry. That we’re fair, that we’re transparent. That the permitting process is done by (National Environmental Policy Act guidelines), but it’s not arbitrary.”

Zinke likened his view of how he wants Interior agencies to work with states, tribal governments and even other federal departments at a high level, to the collaboration seen in how they all collaborate to fight forest fires. In fighting large fires, federal agencies regularly share funds and personnel across departments to prioritize funds and similar efforts are made to support state responders.

He began his tour of the North with stops in Norway and Greenland led by Sen. Lisa Murkowski before arriving in Alaska over the weekend. In the state he visited Prudhoe Bay before spending Memorial Day at Denali National Park prior to the May 30 meetings with Alaska Interior Department Employees and Native leaders.

He was also scheduled to give the keynote address at the Alaska Oil and Gas Association’s annual conference May 31 in Anchorage.

Zinke sounded the right notes for Alaska’s all-Republican congressional delegation that sparred with former President Barack Obama and his Interior Secretary Sally Jewell on nearly every issue — aside from renaming Mt. McKinley to Denali, of course.

“We clearly, in my view, have a secretary of the Interior, who’s a partner in progress, an advocate, not an adversary, and I think that’s the most important thing we’re going to see with this secretary,” Sen. Dan Sullivan said.

Gov. Bill Walker, who generally sided with the federal delegation in pushing back against the former administration’s actions to slow or outright prohibit oil and gas development on federal North Slope lands and Arctic offshore waters, said in a May 26 statement from his office that he is excited to discuss Alaska’s role in furthering domestic energy production.

“I had three meetings with the secretary in Washington, D.C., and look forward to continuing our productive conversations while hosting him in our beautiful state,” Walker said. “Secretary Zinke will see first-hand that Alaskans are committed to responsible resource development.”

With budget fights omnipresent in the Capitol and the White House, Zinke noted how offshore oil and gas revenue — from the Arctic or otherwise — could be put to use within his department.

In 2008, the feds collected approximately $18 billion in offshore revenue, a total that dropped to about $2.6 billion last year, according to Zinke.

He acknowledged that some of the decline was due to lower oil prices leading to less royalty revenue, but said that certainly didn’t account for all or even most of the roughly $15 billion drop in annual federal offshore resource revenue in less than a decade.

“Industry didn’t view us with the trust that’s needed to invest,” Zinke said.

Had that revenue stream been maintained, just one year’s worth would have covered the more than $11 billion of deferred maintenance the National Park Service is trying to manage, he contended.

Inviting industry investment does not mean shirking a commitment to the environment, he said as well.

“I’m a Boy Scout. I believe you should leave your campground in better or the same condition that you found it, but when our regulatory framework is uncertain, is arbitrary, that along the way obstacles, sometimes intentionally, have been put in place — industry needs a signal that we’re good partners with them,” Zinke said.

His press availability was held at Cook Inlet Region Inc.’s Anchorage headquarters just after he and the delegation heard from Alaska Federation of Natives leaders.

He said a large part of revamping how the Interior Department operates will be increasing the role tribal governments play in decisions about federal lands and fish and game management on them.

“The (Native) villages are not monolithic. They have different cultures, sometimes different languages and aspirations. I think we need to be not so monolithic in our approach, but be more collaborative at the village level, in some instances,” Zinke said. “I’ve always said, the triad of sovereignty, self-determination and respect.”

He mentioned the possibility of government-to-government compacts with Native Tribes on issues of resource management and development that impact them.

“I didn’t hear a whole lot upstairs about not wanting to use the resources, about not wanting to go forward and making sure that villages are economically viable,” Zinke said of his meeting with AFN leaders. “I want to make sure sovereignty is more than a word; it’s done with action.”

Zinke also recently named Steve Wackowski, formerly of the Anchorage-based oilfield services company Fairweather Science and a campaign official for Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s 2016 reelection, as his senior advisor for Alaska affairs.

Wackowski said Zinke made his wishes clear when he was appointed.

“The big marching orders were: fill the pipeline,” Wackowski said.

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

Updated: 
06/07/2017 - 1:56pm

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