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Historic: Alaska Lawmakers Depart from Unanimous Approval of Resolution to Drill in the Arctic Refuge Coastal Plain

Posted by Northern Center at Feb 16, 2017 01:10 PM |

Fairbanks, AK - Annually, the Alaska State legislature passes an unopposed resolution supporting federal oil and gas leasing of lands on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. However, today marked a huge departure from the norm as the House voted on HJR5 with a historic four representatives rising in opposition to the resolution.

Fairbanks, AK - Annually, the Alaska State legislature passes an unopposed resolution supporting federal oil and gas leasing of lands on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. However, today marked a huge departure from the norm as the House voted on HJR5 with a historic four representatives rising in opposition to the resolution.

Rep. Guttenberg (D- Fairbanks) referenced, in his statement to the floor, the group of Alaskans that came down to Juneau recently, “they walked the halls last week; the Gwich’in were down here… they have clearly stated philosophy and values and when we talk about this resolution we are ignoring them. So on behalf of them I will be voting no.”

Last week a group of 14 Fairbanks residents traveled to Juneau to express their many concerns about the resolution. The citizen group included members of the Alaska Native tribes: Gwich’in, Kaltag, Anvik, and Koyukuk. Joining them were also Alaskan members of the Fairbanks Climate Action Coalition, the Gwich'in Steering Committee, Native Movement, and the Northern Alaska Environmental Center.

Members of the Fairbanks citizen group that traveled to Juneau last week watched the live-stream of the House vote and were encouraged by the comments made by representatives on the floor. Enei Begaye, executive director of Native Movement, said, “I am thankful to the representatives who voted no on this resolution, they have given voice to the many many Alaskans who called in from across the state and testified for the protection of the Arctic Refuge. And, yes, while many of the Representatives voted for HJR5, I also heard them speak about the contradictions this resolution poses.” 

In the House session today, Rep. Gara (D-Anchorage) voted in favor of the resolution but noted their contradictory message as lawmakers saying that, “in promoting the opening of the Refuge we talk about all the benefits, great profitable pools of oil. Unfortunately they are not great and profitable until we change our oil tax. Because at prices under $70 a barrel, according to a report from the department of revenue just a couple weeks ago, none of these fields will pay any productions tax for the first 7 years, and those are some of the most productive years of a field life.”

Building off the economic contradiction Rep. Parrish (D-Juneau) voted no to the resolution, saying “I rise today in opposition. I feel it’s premature; it’s our constitutional responsibility to secure the maximum benefit for the state’s resources for the people of our state and until we’ve addressed the systemic problems which we have, over the years, built up, I could not in good conscience [vote for this], when we would be getting potentially zero production tax for the peak years of productions.”

Jessica Girard, the program director at the Northern Alaska Environmental Center said of today’s vote, "Today we have reason to celebrate. A group of legislators took a stand and questioned our business-as-usual approach to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The notion that opening the Arctic Refuge, a sacred place for the Gwich'in, will solve our dual climate and economic crises is outdated. Today's no votes on HJR5 leave me hopeful for a living democratic process in Alaska as well as future discussions for a just transition off fossil fuels to a new and diversified Alaska economy." 

While Rep. Josephson (D – Anchorage) voted in favor of the resolution, he stated that he “appreciates greatly the testimony that we heard in the House Resources committee from opponents of this resolution, I found them to be amongst the greatest Alaskans that we have, they are not outliers, they are not even wrong. I’m not sure always who is right and who is wrong on this issue… I do appreciate their sensitivity to this issue. I think they take the long view. I think we all need the long view. That is looking beyond our own individual lifespans and saying what about 100 years from now and 200 years from now. I think that’s an important thing to do, I think it’s a critical thing to do.”

Princess Johnson, a Gwich’in tribal member and a member of the Fairbanks Climate Action Coalition, watched the House vote from Fairbanks, “I am grateful to the Representatives who listened to our concerns and who took action in opposing this harmful resolution that threatens the food security of the Gwich’in Nation. Today’s four votes in opposition signal the increasing voice of Alaskans who want to protect sacred places like the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge; we can not drill our way out of the problems we face.”

In opposition to HJR5 were Representatives Garen Tarr (D-Anchorage), Zack Fansler (D-Bethel), David Guttenberg (D-Fairbanks), & Justin Parish (D-Juneau). HJR5 will now head to the Alaska Senate. 

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Native Movement supports Indigenous-led projects that build healthy and sustainable communities for all.  www.nativemovement.org

Northern Alaska Environmental Centerpromotes conservation of the environment and sustainable resource stewardship in Interior and Arctic Alaska through education and advocacy. http://northern.org

Fairbanks Climate Action Coalition is a group of concerned citizens motivated by the moral, spiritual and scientific duty to elevate climate solutions and foster a fair, equitable and just transition to sustainable communities. http://fairbanksclimateaction.org

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