A delegation of North Slope leaders traveled to Washington, D.C. this week to discuss several resource development-related projects in the Arctic and urge the federal government to consult local communities when making policy decisions.
The delegation includes mayors of the North Slope Borough and Anaktuvuk Pass, leadership from the Arctic Slope Regional Corp., the Inupiat Community of the Arctic Slope, Atqasuk Corp., Wainwright’s Olgoonik Corp. and the Voice of the Arctic Iñupiat. The group planned to meet with the Council on Environmental Quality and White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy, the Office of Management and Budget, the Acting Deputy Secretary of the Department of the Interior and several elected representatives on Capitol Hill.
The visit comes in response to the Biden administration canceling state-owned oil leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in September. According to the Voice, the decision happened without consultation with the North Slope communities and “is part of a broader, concerning trend of denying the North Slope Iñupiat (their) rightful spot at the policymaking table as Indigenous communities,” said the President of the Voice of Arctic Iñupiat Nagruk Harcharek in an email to the Sounder.
North Slope Borough Mayor Josiah Patkotak expressed in a statement his hope for a dialogue with the federal government.
“Our people are a generation removed from third-world conditions unrecognizable to most Americans. Please don’t take us back to a time when we had to send our children thousands of miles away for school, medical care, and work,” Patkotak said. “I am confident that we can achieve a future that benefits us all – economically, environmentally, and socially – and that prevents a return to the conditions and hardships of those who walked before us just 50 years ago.”
The plan for the visit is to call for engagement with the federal government on all local matters, including decisions on the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
“These decisions and others like them will have profound, long-term impacts on the future of our regional economy, our right to self-determination, our communities and culture,” Harcharek said.
The Bureau of Land Management is proposing to update its regulations for the management of the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska — an area of federal land that spans from the west of Point Lay along the Arctic Coast. It borders Nuiqsut on the east and includes Utqiagvik, Wainwright and Atqasuk.
BLM wants to update the regulations to support subsistence activities in the area, protect fish, wildlife and the overall environment affected by global warming, as well as mitigate adverse effects of oil and gas activities in the reserve. The proposed rule would establish a new framework to balance development with the protection of sensitive landscapes, or Special Areas, such as within the Teshekpuk Lake, Utukok River Uplands, Colville River, Kasegaluk Lagoon and Peard Bay. A 60-day public comment period for the proposition ends on Nov. 17.
Another issue the delegation expressed their concern about is the environmental analysis of potential oil and gas drilling in the Arctic Refuge. The analysis, or Coastal Plain Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, became available online on Sept. 8, and since then, BLM and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service held several public meetings to discuss it.
“Concerningly, there have been only three public meetings on the North Slope about these proposed policies, none of which explored the impacts of the administration’s new rules affecting ANWR,” Voice officials said in a statement.
The agencies had an open public comment period until Nov. 7 for people to share their thoughts on SEIS online and through mail, Emma Roach, communications director with BLM in Alaska, previously said. She added that “BLM and FWS welcome the opportunity for formal nation-to-nation consultations in this process, which can happen at any time and do not need to be tied to a specific comment period or project.”
The Voice of the Arctic Iñupiat said North Slope communities need more than the brief 60- and 70-day public comment periods provided for the ANWR draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement and NPR-A proposed rule.
“This administration has not lived up to its continued and very public promises of engagement with Indigenous people on policies affecting their lands and people,” Harcharek said. “We are here this week to demand our rightful spot at the policymaking table starting now. This is the bare minimum that Washington owes the North Slope Iñupiat.”