North Slope leaders traveled to Washington, D.C. last week to ask the federal government for better consultation on Arctic-related issues. On Monday, the Bureau of Land Management extended the comment period on management changes for the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska.
“Following discussions with Tribal leaders, Alaska Native corporations, local leaders, and organizations in Alaska, Acting Deputy Secretary Laura Daniel-Davis announced today that the Bureau of Land Management will extend the public comment period,” BLM said in a press release Monday. “The BLM has held virtual and public meetings in Alaska and its North Slope, as well as government-to-government consultation, to hear feedback on the proposal.”
The Bureau of Land Management is proposing to update its management regulations for the NPR-A 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 regulations would particularly enhance protections within the Teshekpuk Lake, Utukok River Uplands, Colville River, Kasegaluk Lagoon and Peard Bay.
The delegation, which included mayors of the North Slope Borough and Anaktuvuk Pass, leaders from the Arctic Slope Regional Corp., the Inupiat Community of the Arctic Slope and others, went to Washington, D.C., last week to share their concerns about insufficient communication with leaders in the Arctic on NPR-A and other resource-development projects.
“A big reason for going was that the period for public comment was closing quickly,” said President of the Voice of Arctic Iñupiat Nagruk Harcharek.
After the extension, the agency is now accepting public comments on the proposal until Dec. 7.
The Voice of the Arctic Iñupiat still deemed the extension insufficient.
“Today, the Interior Department announced that it would extend the public comment period for its proposed National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska (NPR-A) Rule by only 30 days, totaling just one-third of the North Slope region’s consistent request for a 90-day extension,” Voice officials said in a press release.
Another project the delegation wanted to discuss was the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. BLM recently released a 400-page Coastal Plain Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement outlining the environmental impacts of potential development in the area and was gathering comments on it until Nov. 7.
The delegates wanted to ask authorities for a formal consultation— and an extension of the public comment period.
“They haven’t had time to delve into either issue,” Harcharek said about North Slope Borough leadership. " They need to sit down and make sure that the NPR-A proposal protects our subsistence hunting as well as doesn’t threaten our future economy.”
While the comment period has ended or will end relatively soon for the two projects, formal consultation with tribal entities can take place at any time. The delegates wondered how they could make sure their comments would be taken into consideration.
“If you already have your mind made up and the decision made up when the public comment ends, then when you consult — well, it doesn’t mean anything,” Harcharek said.
During the trip, the delegation met with authorities from the White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy, the Council on Environmental Quality, the Office of Management and Budget and the Department of Interior.
“We did have good discussions with folks, especially at the White House,” Harcharek said. “There was definitely, I think, a desire to help. And on all occasions, folks wanted to get to the bottom of whatever disconnect was happening and why folks weren’t engaging formally for consultation.”
The members of Alaska’s Congressional delegation also joined the meetings during the visit and asked federal policymakers for more consistent and meaningful engagement and consultation with the North Slope leaders.
“Last week, a strong delegation of Alaska North Slope Native leaders traveled a very long way to be in Washington, D.C.,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski said in a statement. “It is really incredible that they have to come thousands of miles and knock on the doors of federal agencies just to try to receive what they should have in Alaska — meaningful consultation about developing natural resources on Iñupiaq lands. I stand with our Alaska Native leaders, who have demanded that this administration listen to and work with the people in the region, even when it’s not convenient for their politics.”
After requesting the extension of public comment periods and consultations, the delegates are now waiting for follow-up communication.
“We left there thinking that we were, in fact, going to start to get some answers to the questions that we were asking,” Harcharek said. “Once we hear back from folks, we’ll kind of get our heads together as far as leadership, North Slope leadership, and ... based on the information that we have, decide how we want to move forward collectively.”