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Reactions to Interior’s big announcement from protest to praise

While a small band of well-trained protesters chanted outside the Dena’ina Center in downtown Anchorage, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and business leaders from around the state gathered for the first secretarial order to ever be signed in Alaska.

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The Alaska Democratic Party had issued a call to protest along with an environmental group or two that stood outside the Dena’ina, (and for a brief time came inside the building, only to be thrown out by security). They were a noisy bunch, but otherwise well behaved, as professional protesters go.

WILDERNESS SOCIETY UNHAPPY: At the national level, the Wilderness Society was ready with a press release saying this was an assault on the survival of the Gwich’in tribe.

“The survival of the Gwich’in Nation is at stake,” said Nicole Whittington-Evans, Alaska regional director for The Wilderness Society. “We need to continue to protect and preserve the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which has values far beyond whatever oil might lie beneath it. Some places are so special that they should simply be off limits, and the Arctic Refuge really is—as our report says—too wild to drill.”

[Read: Zinke signs order to restart oil in Arctic]

Zinke was applauded by those in attendance at the Alaska Oil and Gas Association conference, for taking preliminary steps to open up the National Petroleum Reserve Alaska and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil development.

Secretary Zinke’s order updates the assessment of the North Slope oil and gas resource basin in calling for the development of a revised plan for the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A) and the Section 1002 Area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

“Shutting down wealth comes with a consequence. Energy itself is a strength of our country. It’s better to produce it here with reasonable regulations than watch it get produced overseas with no regulation,” Zinke said, after having described the environmental catastrophe of oil development he has seen in the Middle East and African continent.

GERAN TARR SINGING NEW TUNE: The Alaska House of Representatives Natural Resources Committee issued a press release praising the action:

“Alaska’s North Slope is one of the most productive oil basins on earth, but there is still immense untapped potential in the largely unexplored NPRA and 1002 area of ANWR,” wrote Rep. Geran Tarr, who co-chairs the committee. “Though still years from production under the most optimistic scenario, I hope today’s order will improve the partnership between the state and the federal government to increase resonsible resource development in Alaska.” Then she expanded on the need for higher taxes from the oil production.

This was the same Tarr who voted against the ANWR resolution that passed the House in February, with Reps. Zach Fansler, David Guttenberg, and Justin Parish voting staying on her side to deny the House unanimous support of responsible oil development.

Kara Moriarty

MORIARTY THANKFUL: Kara Moriarty, president and CEO of AOGA, was exuberant about Zinke’s order: “Today’s announcement by Secretary Zinke is not one we will soon forget. When he said, ‘Alaska matters,’ he finally acknowledged the hardworking Alaskans who have felt isolated and disconnected with their federal government in recent years.

“That frustration is easily understood when you consider that 70 percent of Alaskans have long supported the responsible development of our state’s oil and gas resources. That support is rooted in Alaska’s decades-long track record of safely producing oil and gas while supporting a vibrant economy.

“Secretary Zinke’s order will help launch a new era in energy production and economic growth in Alaska, which is home to a full one-third of the country’s oil and gas reserves.

“We are excited and gratified by today’s announcement, and appreciate the Secretary of Interior taking time to listen and consider the opinions of all Alaskans. AOGA looks forward to working with Secretary Zinke and his team as these orders take effect.” – Kara Moriarty, AOGA president

Sec. Ryan Zinke signs a secretarial order beginning the process to open the National Petroleum Reserve Alaska.

MURKOWSKI ENTHUSIASTIC: Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who had ushered Sec. Zinke throughout his trip across Alaska, was also beaming:

“This is exactly the type of announcement that so many Alaskans have been asking for: a smart, timely step to restore access to our lands, throughput to our Trans-Alaska Pipeline, and growth to our economy under reasonable regulations that do not sacrifice environmental protections.

“I thank Secretary Zinke for traveling to Alaska this week, for meeting with stakeholders to understand the unique needs and opportunities of our state, and for moving quickly to ensure we are finally allowed to realize more of our tremendous resource potential.”

WALKER MUTED: Governor Walker’s statement was workmanlike, but lacked authenticity and never mentioned jobs, families, or the need to put more oil into the pipeline to help pay for state government:

“Thanks to Secretary Zinke’s leadership, we are ushering in an era of unprecedented federal-state partnership to develop Alaska’s resources. This order allows for greater state input as Alaskans continue our strong record of safe and responsible oil and gas development. I applaud Secretary Zinke for removing the obstacles so that Alaska can play a greater role in securing the nation’s energy dominance.” – Gov. Bill Walker

Walker had not been invited to speak during the event, nor was he invited on stage to take part in the signing, Must Read Alaska has learned. However, he invited himself, and also crashed Sec. Zinke’s press conference held immediately afterward.

In a letter to Zinke a few days prior to the announcement, Walker cited two critical reasons why Interior should open land management plans for the National Petroleum Reserve Alaska:

“There is an increasing need for community access and connection that should be recognized by the federal government, and the Petroleum Reserve is seeing its first petroleum production in almost a century…

“Regarding access and connectivity, communities across the western North Slope are evaluating how infrastructure may improve subsistence access, cultural ties, costs for goods and services, and economic opportunities. These are matters where the local communities may have differing needs, approaches, and perspectives, but they all require a federal land manager that evaluates the cumulative benefits of a community infrastructure in the NPR-A rather than prohibiting any activity that has even an incidental impact.”

It’s unclear to what Walker was referring.

Walker did not mention the importance of jobs in a state with the highest unemployment in the nation, suffering from a recession. More than 18,000 jobs have disappeared over two years under his watch.

His references to access and connectivity, and the “evaluating” message baffled some observers, who asked whether Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott had authored the letter and press release. It was, they observed, less than a full-throated endorsement.


Suzanne Downing
Suzanne Downing
Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.

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