GUEST COMMENTARY: Attempt to repeal ANWR development an insult to Alaskans

  • President Donald Trump shakes hands with Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, as she speaks during an event on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 20, 2017, to acknowledge the final passage of tax overhaul legislation by Congress that included a provision to open the coastal plain area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration. To the left of Murkowski is Rep. Don Young and to the right is Sen. Dan Sullivan. (Photo/Carolyn Kaster/AP)

Last week the House of Representatives approved measures that would restrict America’s future energy supply, including one that would block responsible development in northeast Alaska. As the state’s congressional delegation, we are unified in strong opposition and believe passage would be a reckless strategic mistake.

The bill in question comes from a California representative and targets the non-wilderness 1002 Area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which Congress set aside in 1980 for future exploration.

After years of debate, Congress agreed in 2017 to allow careful development of just 2,000 acres of the 1.5-million-acre area, itself located within the ANWR’s 19.3 million acres. This developable fraction of a fraction amounts to one ten-thousandth of the refuge.

We believe, in fairness to Alaskans, that the leasing program should proceed responsibly, with Congress and the Trump administration ensuring that lands and wildlife are cared for. All of us are working to put the proper guidelines in place. Yet some in Congress still remain eager to repeal the provision, based on misperceptions about what is at stake and what most Alaskans want.

Most offensively, the repeal effort ignores the Inupiat people of Kaktovik, the only village located in the ANWR. Most who live there, like a sizable majority of Alaskans, support responsible development of the 1002 Area.

Members of Congress seeking a repeal ignore the significant environmental protections that apply to development, as well as the decades-long record of safe operations on Alaska’s northern coast under some of the world’s strictest environmental regulations and oversight.

They ignore incredible advances in technology, which have dramatically reduced the surface footprint of development while increasing drillers’ subsurface reach by as much as 40 times.

They also overlook the importance of economic vitality in sustaining Alaskan life. Our state wasn’t allowed into the union until 1959 when Washington was finally satisfied we could support ourselves through resource production, and maintaining a strong economy remains essential to all of our goals, including environmental preservation.

Alaska is still young and will need to develop its resources long into the future. As recent years have shown, our economy, our state budget and our people suffer when federal restrictions prevent development. But it isn’t only Alaska that stands to lose.

According to the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, Alaskan oil supports 12,000 jobs and $780 million in wages in Washington’s Puget Sound region each year.

All of that could vanish if the Trans-Alaska Pipeline shuts down. The pipeline is currently only a quarter full and needs new throughput from the 1002 Area to reach capacity.

Further south, data from the California Energy Commission shows the state’s imports of foreign oil have risen significantly as Alaska production has declined. California’s answer is that it plans simply to stop using oil—yet it still ranks near the top of the list of oil-refining states.

Despite ceaseless rhetoric about a Green New Deal, the reality is that our nation and the world are demanding the resources that will come from the 1002 Area.

If Alaska doesn’t supply them, another country will. Global oil demand is rising, not falling. President Trump’s commitment to America’s energy renaissance has helped create thousands of well-paying jobs across America, strengthening families and communities along the way.

And while prices have been relatively stable, artificial restrictions can lead to price spikes that cause hardship and unrest. See Paris as a recent example.

Careful development of the 1002 Area will help strengthen America’s economy and improve our energy security in the long-term. It will also benefit global energy markets, allowing the U.S. to provide allies with alternatives to resources from unfriendly nations and cartels.

Competition for resources in the Arctic is another geopolitical dimension of the ANWR issue. Russia and China are expanding their presence in the region, with billions of dollars of investments in infrastructure.

The U.S. is falling behind in icebreakers, deep-draft ports and other Arctic infrastructure needs. Pulling up the stakes on an American energy program that helps build a presence in the region would put us further behind.

We understand that Alaska has earned an almost mythological place in the minds of many Americans. But we cannot be treated like a snow globe, to be placed on the shelf for viewing pleasure only. Alaska has tens of millions of acres of national parks, wildlife refuges and federal wilderness. We also have room for the responsible development of a small part of the 1002 Area, and all Americans should recognize this is in our nation’s best interest.

Updated: 
09/18/2019 - 9:25am

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