ASRC: Obama acts in our name, ignores our needs

Ole Lake, right, manning the Alaska Wilderness League table at the 2015 AFN convention. Photo: AWL

President Obama cited subsistence and the needs of Alaska Natives yesterday as part of the reason he decided to block future oil and gas lease sales in Arctic waters. Some Native Alaskans welcome the resource protection. But the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation said the president didn’t consult with its members and is ignoring the real needs of the Inupiat people.

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To see how offshore development would help the people of the region, ASRC Executive Vice President Tara Sweeney said to look at what happened when Shell was exploring in the Chukchi Sea.

“Our communities were working,” Sweeney said. “Our shareholders were marine mammal observers. We were providing services to the industry in Barrow, in Wainwright, out of Point Hope and in our communities. And absent any of those types of opportunities, people are looking for work.”

Tara Sweeney is ASRC’s executive vice president for external affairs. Photo: ASRC

As requested by national environmental groups, Obama put the entire Chukchi Sea and nearly all of the Beaufort Sea in what’s known as a 12(a) withdrawal, making the areas unavailable for any future lease sale. Advocates of the move say the withdrawal can’t be undone by the next president.

Industry associations dispute that, and Alaska’s all-Republican congressional delegation said it’s already laying the groundwork to cancel the withdrawals.

Sweeney said the president is thwarting the needs of Arctic people to have things like toilets, running water and a healthy economy. It’s especially galling to her that the White House, according to Sweeney, made the withdrawals without discussing it with ASRC or other Native groups.

“It’s easy for someone in New York or Washington, D.C. – an E-NGO or a limousine liberal – to sit there and say ‘leave the oil in the ground’ when they have access to modern amenities that are considered luxuries in the U.S. Arctic,” Sweeney said.

A White House official said Native corporations and other stakeholders were consulted over several years, not directly for this decision, but when the Interior Department was considering the Arctic for its five-year offshore leasing plan.

A recent poll, sponsored by a pro-drilling lobby, found a large majority of Alaskans support Arctic offshore development. Among Native respondents, the pollsters found 72 percent in favor.

But that’s not everyone.

“I’m very, very grateful for everybody’s concern for all the Arctic, the Beaufort and Chukchi,” Ole Lake said. Lake works for the Alaska Wilderness League in Anchorage.

Lake is originally from Hooper Bay. It’s well south of the North Slope, but he said Yupik and Cupik cultures like his depend on harvesting the creatures that pass by on their way to the Arctic, and he wants to protect that way of life.

“The coastal people have been witness to that magnificent migratory route for thousands and thousands of years and have grown with it,” Lake said.

Lake believes lots of Native people are probably happy the president decided to keep oil rigs out of Arctic waters, but they’re too busy with subsistence activities to make their views known.