Alaskans call for more public meetings in the event of offshore developments
The only public meetings held in Alaska for input regarding a draft federal proposal affecting Alaska offshore lease areas took place in Anchorage and Fairbanks on Wednesday evening.
The meetings were the only in-person opportunity for Alaskans to weigh in on the Trump administration's leasing plan, which puts 95 percent of all federally available offshore areas on the table for consideration -- a move Alaska's senior U.S. senator, Lisa Murkowski, says is the exact opposite of his predecessor's views.
"In the Obama administration, they took the approach that we are going to take a very narrow view of what should be available," Murkowski said. "They'll put that out on the table and allow for public input and then more things will actually drop off. The Trump administration took exactly the opposite approach and said we have all of these offshore areas, let's put them all on the table."
The draft process includes public comment that will help advise Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on whether or not certain lease areas should be on the table. Every five years, the Department of Interior is able to put forth a draft proposal for the areas offshore that they would like in federal waters to make available for leasing.
Dozens of people protested the public meeting by saying the Trump Administration leasing plan will damage many coastal communities way of life.
"This is a direct threat to our basic human rights, our security and who we are," protestor Adrienne Titus said. "Our identity, our cultures, our land and homes. If they were to set up an oil rig right out here in Cook Inlet, what's going to happen there? How many people will be at this meeting?"
The protest was even brought into the Dena'ina Center in the middle of the open house-style format the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management used to answer questions and share information.
"When that oil spills off the coast, none of you will be there, none of you will be impacted," a protestor said.
The meeting for public comment is just the starting point for the draft environmental document that will come out with the proposed program, which is the next step in the process.
"Here at this stage, we want our partners, our constituents, our stakeholders to come in and help us collect the information to present to the secretary who makes these decisions," BOEM Regional Director Dr. James Kendall said. "There are areas in Alaska that need to be protected, there are areas that need to be developed because oil and gas is the lifeblood of the state of Alaska. We also have to maintain jobs, we also have to maintain the environment. So, we are hearing a little bit of everything so we have to put all of that and present it to the secretary."
Alaska's congressional delegation is requesting that the interior drop 11 of the 14 basins in Alaska from the plan and focus only on leasing areas where there is already oil development, namely the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas and areas of Cook Inlet.
Many Alaskans in coastal communities, along with Governor Bill Walker, are asking for additional public meetings. Meanwhile, Sen. Murkowski says that even though she is asking for changes, she is happy with the way the Trump Administration is expanding the opportunity to develop resources in Alaska.
The entire list of meetings and new dates can be found here, and anyone can add to the public comments before March 9, 2018 by submitting additions online.
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