This week, Senator Lisa Murkowski led a Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee field hearing in Fairbanks, Alaska. The hearing was titled “Alaska Resource Development – Opportunities to Create Jobs and Strengthen National Security” and featured witnesses from all industries of the Arctic. At the meeting, trade groups, regional Native corporations, and Arctic business leaders reiterated the need for the federal government to provide consistency and clarity in its Arctic regulatory approach.
Sen. Murkowski set the tone for the hearing immediately in her opening remarks saying:
“Really, our hardest task is not in finding the resources or developing the know-how or recruiting the manpower needed to responsibly produce them […] Instead, it’s really overcoming the restrictions that are imposed, oftentimes by our own federal government.”
A diverse group of Alaska’s community leaders agreed with Sen. Murkowski in their individual testimonies, and each witness discussed how inconsistent and overbearing policies have harmed their businesses or group’s way of life. One such leader was Michelle Anderson, current President of Ahtna Inc., an Alaska Regional Corporation made up of over 1,900 Ahtna Athabascan shareholders. She focused on the positive impacts seen in her community as a result of the TAPS pipeline. Anderson noted how federal ownership of Alaskan lands is diminishing the benefits TAPS provides to Ahtna’s shareholders:
“We need the federal government to take a proactive approach with their vast acreage to provide economic benefits for Ahtna and all Alaskans […] We need major oil and gas and mining companies to continue making multi-billion dollar investments in Alaska to keep TAPS running for the next 40 years, to protect our Ahtna culture and to provide economic benefits to our shareholders.”
The Trans Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS) was a major talking point during Monday’s hearing. Many witnesses testified on how the pipeline was being negatively impacted by federal regulations that dissuade Arctic investment. Alyeska Pipeline (operator of TAPS) President Tom Barrett was in attendance to discuss the importance of strong throughput numbers for TAPS:
“Oil throughput is ultimately the key to our sustainability. Better access to energy on the North Slope of Alaska, onshore and offshore, is essential. Responsible development can bring benefits to TAPS and to all of us.”
The Arctic Slope Regional Corporation (ASRC) was another Native group that testified in favor of more Arctic development. Executive Vice President Richard Glenn criticized federal government agencies for ignoring local leaders when crafting Arctic regulations:
“We were created by Congress and are the largest private landowners in the state of Alaska, yet our ownership is disregarded or discounted as if our charge is irrelevant to the contribution to the quality of life for the people to whom we are charged to represent”
Vince Beltrami, President of AFL-CIO (a large labor organization that represents unions) offered another view point as the leader of a major Alaskan trade group. Beltrami discussed how the Alaskan construction industry has been crushed by the cancellation of major Arctic projects and low oil prices of late. Beltrami stressed that federal Arctic regulations must improve immediately, because projects in the far north require a substantially longer lead time than other types of construction projects:
“But with a non-existent state capital budget due to low oil prices and declining oil production, it is imperative to put a long range plan in to effect. Part of that long range plan has to include looking at projects that could be five to ten years out: new efforts on the North Slope, ANWR, OCS, a state of the art new strategically located Coast Guard base, and more. The wheels need to be put in motion, and the groundwork needs to be laid now.”
This week’s Fairbanks hearing held by Sen. Murkowski demonstrated the wide range of stakeholders who rely on Arctic commerce for their way of life. Witness after witness testified on the importance of Arctic investment to local communities. Leaders of Native groups and corporations continued to stress that they favor responsible Arctic energy projects. The federal government cannot continue to stymie Arctic projects at the cost of Native communities and the public across Alaska. These communities need their voices heard by the federal government and its regulatory agencies. ASRC Executive Vice President Richard Glenn said it best when he stated:
“The local perspective should not be overlooked, dismissed or marginalized as the federal government develops resource development policy for the Arctic.”
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