Obama doubles down on Arctic lockdown



In Alaska, we’re now nearly surrounded by Barack Obama’s Arctic shutdown. Our northern waters are completely off-limit, he has mandated, for Outer Continental Shelf development.

In a detailed executive order, Obama has closed the Arctic waters to all but scientists and what whale hunters can still afford to remain. It’s a no-enterprise zone.

Greenpeace has won.

Today, in the twilight of his presidency, he invented a new, and never-before-heard-of designation: the Northern Bering Sea Climate Resilience Area. 

This fall alone, Obama Administration shut down activity in nearly all of the seas surrounding Alaska:  The Chukchi, the Beaufort, and now Northern Bering. Marine monument status for other areas is still under consideration by the outgoing president.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski harshly called out Obama on his 11th hour, Friday afternoon “news dump,” issued when the House had adjourned for the month and senators were also trying to get back home to their districts:

“This is the first time we have ever seen the term ‘climate resilience area’ in Alaska or anywhere else,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski. “We have no idea what that designation is supposed to mean, what legal authority it is supposed to rest on, what the limitations for it will be, or what it will mean for subsistence, shipping, fishing, and other activities in western and northern Alaska. To me, this sure sounds like a euphemism for a marine monument, because it locks up over 112,000 square miles of Alaska waters and seems destined to impact a wide range of communities, tribes, and industries in our state. While I strongly support meaningful consultation with tribes, this opens the door to a whole host of unknowns, and could easily be misapplied to block even the most responsible Arctic subsistence, activities, and development.”

In his surprise announcement the president also ordered all agencies to consult with local tribes to gather what he calls traditional knowledge before making any decisions on traditional development or traditional shipping activity. His actions may be in response to the Dakota Access Pipeline protests that have brought a sanctioned project to its knees.

Obama withdrew Alaska’s Norton Basin and portions of the St. Matthew-Hall area from all future oil and gas leasing, for a total area of 40,300 square miles.

“Once again, the Obama administration has used unilateral action to hurt Alaskans. This executive order, drafted behind closed doors, unilaterally closes fishing grounds, removes oil and gas leasing, and creates hurdles to shipping, all with the stroke of a pen—without any consultation with the State, Alaska’s Congressional delegation, or public notice, consultation, or comment,” said Sen. Dan Sullivan, adding he will work with Murkowski and Congressman Don Young, as well as the Trump Administration to “repair  the damage done by eight years of the Obama Administration and to restore the ability of Alaskans to determine their economic future and the ways their lands and water will be managed.”

Congressman Young said he had heard from Native leaders who had not been consulted.

“[This] came as a complete surprise – a total contradiction to the President’s own policy on consultation,” Young said.

“Thank God the Obama Administration only has 42 days left in office; we will be working to undo this action come January 20th,” Young said. “Not only does this leave me extremely worried about future economic activity in the region, including fisheries, I see it as a backdoor attempt to limit certain activities north of the Bering Strait – like future resource development. We’ve already seen a costly and overly prescriptive regulatory regime for the Arctic, and this action leaves the door wide open for even more roadblocks and hurdles.”

The response from Gov. Bill Walker was, in contrast, tepid: “We support Tribal leaders in the Bering Straits region who worked diligently to provide economic opportunities for their community while protecting valuable resources. However, the State of Alaska is concerned about any further erosion of our ability to support much needed resource development at a time when the state is grappling with declining oil prices and production. We are concerned about the timing and lack of clarity on how this executive order will be implemented in the coming years.”

State Sen. Mike Dunleavy wasted no time in drawing a contrast between himself and Gov. Walker:

“This decision by President Obama is yet another attempt to put his no development, no jobs, agenda ahead of Alaska and its people,” he said in a statement.”

“Alaska was granted statehood under the premise that we would be allowed to develop our resources for the maximum benefit of our people. Yet, this act hamstrings our state by walling off potential oil and gas exploration.

“More lease sales means more jobs and economic activity for Alaska, which is currently in a recession and has the highest rate of unemployment in the country. This action only worsens that situation.

“I call upon President-elect Trump to do everything in his power to reverse this executive order and open more offshore basins for development. Alaska has the potential to be the natural resource engine for this country if simply allowed the opportunity to develop its resources.

“This was a bad decision made by a President on his way out the door, a decision that hurts Alaskans. We need more activity, not less. We need jobs, not bad decisions by a President in the waning days of his administration.”

Obama’s move, while not completely unexpected, came just a day after Alaska’s congressional delegation sent the president a strongly worded letter objecting to the president’s shutting down of oil and gas leasing in Alaska’s offshore.

The White House announcement can be found here.