The recent announcement by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar of Preferred Alternative B-2 for the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska has appalled even the conservation-minded Iñupiat of the North Slope of Alaska. The North Slope Borough is nearly entirely dependent on the environmentally safe development of natural resources, as are the Native corporations within the region. The rapid decline of oil production is affecting the ability of local governments to provide services to residents often taken for granted in urban communities. In an era of budget cutbacks by the federal and state governments, we cannot afford to cripple the lone economic driver for our communities.
The proposed “lockup” of almost half of NPR-A will negatively impact the well-being of every resident on the North Slope. Although the legislation opening NPR-A is explicit in ensuring that the area be managed for oil and gas purposes, the secretary is side-stepping the clear intent of the law to satisfy the agendas of outside environmental groups.
The proposed “B-2” alternative in the environmental impact statement/integrated activity plan does not represent the desires of the majority of the Iñupiat living within the boundaries of NPR-A. It was not developed in consultation with the North Slope Borough, the Arctic Slope Regional Corp. or any of the land-owning village corporations within NPR-A.
Further aggravating the lack of federal consultation is the practice of environmental groups taking advantage of some Iñupiat to advocate their position in Washington, D.C. They hand pick a few individuals sympathetic to their cause and market them as “Native leaders,” resulting in a widely touted, skewed and carefully orchestrated “Native” perspective, while the voices of actual, elected leaders are ignored. This practice also reveals the fact that these environmental organizations have little to no respect for the perspective of Native people that happen to disagree with their agendas. Even more alarming, the federal government is utilizing the same approach. This practice is dishonest and unacceptable.
During the past four years, more efforts have been made by the current administration to limit, restrict and heavily regulate the lands upon which we have subsisted and currently depend for responsible development. Proposals such as Secretary Salazar’s “Wild Lands” policy, management alternatives for “wild and scenic river” and “wilderness” designations and the establishment of critical habitat area have left our communities feeling besieged by powerful outside interests. How soon will it be when we are considered trespassers on our own land?
The proposed B-2 Alternative is a plan to prohibit oil and gas leasing, development and infrastructure in a large tracts of the NPR-A. An area proposed for closure includes one portion of the NPR-A that the federal government has identified as having the highest potential for oil and gas. Further, this decision comes at a time when the feasibility of a potential pipeline route from offshore development on the outer continental shelf has yet to be determined.
Onerous federal land management schemes and regulations have negative impacts on our people. Decisions made by people thousands of miles away from our homes have devastating impacts. Without oil revenues, how will the federal government address the needs of our communities?
We are the best judges when it comes to balancing the protection of our subsistence resources and responsible oil and gas development. If officials in the Obama administration truly cared about Alaska Native people, they would recognize that their current proposed policies are a detriment to our path to self-determination.
The North Slope Borough and Native corporations exist in our communities to improve the quality of life for our people. We are standing up for our economic and subsistence freedoms and rejecting efforts that would relegate us to becoming exhibits in an outdoor museum. If we are to be respected as a people, then we must have a seat at the decision-making table when those decisions concern the land that we call home.
Rex A. Rock Sr. is president & CEO of the Arctic Slope Regional Corp. and Charlotte E. Brower is mayor of the North Slope Borough.