Alaskan Representatives Rip U.S.-Canada Arctic Agreement

March 14, 2016 in Global Opportunity

On Friday, Arctic Energy Center sounded the alarm on the troubling ramifications of walling off almost one-third of the Arctic from development, as suggested in a U.S.-Canada joint agreement that kicked off Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s visit to Washington, D.C. last week. “Protecting” 27 percent of the Arctic – and eventually “substantially surpass[ing] these national goals in the coming years” – carries chilling implications about the future of North American energy security, Alaska’s economy, and the indigenous populations who have called the Arctic home for thousands of years. Alaskan lawmakers agreed in resounding unison.

“…no Alaskans were consulted…”

Even though the agreement affirmed the two countries’ commitment to “collaborating with Indigenous and Arctic governments, leaders, and communities to more broadly and respectfully include Indigenous science and traditional knowledge into decision making,” Alaska’s top elected officials were quick to note the irony that few, if any, Alaskans were consulted when the agreement was being crafted (emphasis added):

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK):

“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.”

Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK):

“Because we are the only Arctic state in the country, this release should have been called, ‘The Alaska-Canada Statement. … However, none of the members of Alaska’s federal delegation were even consulted or asked for input on this joint statement. More troubling, there was little, if any, meaningful consultation with those Alaskans who will be most affected by the initiatives outlined in the statement.

Rep. Don Young (R-AK):

“Today’s unilateral actions, taken without consultation of the people most affected by them, create layers upon layers of red tape and further erode any sense of regulatory certainty in the United States.”

Gov. Bill Walker (I):

“As the United States’ only Arctic region, Alaska should play a significant role in setting our nation’s goals and priorities for Arctic development. While I appreciate the White House’s continued engagement in Arctic issues, it is concerning that no Alaskans were consulted on the objectives laid out by President Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau today.”

“…the Obama administration has pulled back the curtain and fully exposed its anti-fossil fuel agenda for what it is”

The lawmakers were also furious that the agreement foreshadowed even more hurdles for Arctic oil and gas development, which would exacerbate Alaska’s already-challenging economic prospects (emphasis added):

Sen. Murkowski:

“The joint statement also threatens the continued development of oil and gas in the Arctic – including resources on State or Native land – and appears to give Canada at least partial veto power over our sovereign development decisions. That, to me, is simply stunning.”

Sen. Sullivan:

“Make no mistake, these initiatives will harm the energy sector, which provides low-cost energy and contributes to the quality of life for hundreds of millions of Americans. But it could be particularly devastating to Alaska at a time when the state is experiencing a budget crisis. 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. 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.”

Rep. Young:

“With months to go in office, the Obama administration has pulled back the curtain and fully exposed its anti-fossil fuel agenda for what it is — an attempt to stop even the most reasonable forms of resource development in Alaska and across the country. Today’s unilateral actions, taken without consultation of the people most affected by them, create layers upon layers of red tape and further erode any sense of regulatory certainty in the United States. These proposals will destroy American jobs, drive up the cost of domestic energy and stifle private innovations already reducing emissions across the country. If the President were serious about building a resilient Alaska, as he’s stated on numerous occasions, he wouldn’t systematically target our already sensitive economy and the industries that support it. There’s no question, if these proposals move forward they will cause irreparable harm to our state and eliminate countless opportunities for Alaskans to succeed in the future.”

Gov. Walker:

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. 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.”

When reacting to the agreement, Sen. Murkowski also expressed her “long-standing criticism” that the Obama Administration has failed to “account for the full range of issues and needs in the region”:

“My long-standing criticism of the Obama Administration is that it sees the Arctic through the singular lens of climate change. It has failed – for almost eight years, today included – to account for the full range of issues and needs in the region.”

Indeed, Alaska Natives are becoming increasingly frustrated that the federal government is siding with activists on Arctic development instead of those who live in the Arctic – and whose livelihoods depend on resource development.

In Short

It is encouraging that Alaska’s elected representatives echo what local and Native Alaskans have been saying about the Arctic all along. At the same time, it is disappointing that the American and Canadian governments should pursue a strategy frequently utilized by activists: to propose limiting or even banning development ostensibly for the benefit of Alaskans, while turning a deaf ear to what locals actually have to say.