North Slope mayor calls out governor on Arctic drilling
Open Letter to Washington Governor Jay Inslee
Editor’s Note: Washington Governor Jay Inslee, Seattle’s Mayor Ed Murray, and the Seattle City Council have expressed opposition to new Arctic drilling and Shell basing its Arctic drilling fl eet at the Port of Seattle. A lawsuit by environmental groups is seeking to block Shell from using the Port of Seattle as a home base for its Arctic drilling fl eet. The Alaska Legislature has passed a strongly-worded resolution firing back at Washington state offi cials “or any entity that would treat this state like a mere colony.” Washington offi cials claim Arctic drilling and the basing of Shell’s fl eet at the port violates Seattle’s environmental conscience. Below is Mayor Brower’s open letter to Governor Inslee.
Dear Governor Inslee:
We were very disappointed to see your recent letter to Secretary Sally Jewell protesting the federal government’s decision to open portions of the Arctic to oil and gas development and calling for a ban on further lease sales.
Your comments reflect a lack of basic knowledge about our region and are off ensive to people that live in America’s Arctic. We also did not miss the fact that your letter made no reference to the people that actually live there.
The municipality that I represent, the North Slope Borough, spans an area of over 94,000 square miles across Alaska’s North Slope – that is 23,000 square miles larger than the entire state of Washington. It is not an area, however, that is untouched as your letter asserts. The majority of our nearly 8,000 full-time residents are Inupiat Eskimos who continue to be stewards of the land and sea much as their ancestors had for millennia. And the Inupiat will continue to be part of the Arctic landscape today as they always have been.
Your concerns for the environment and the natural resources of the Arctic, while laudable, fail to acknowledge the reality of the world we live in today. Last year alone, over 800,000 tons of petroleum products made their way through the Arctic Ocean and the Bering Straits on tankers transiting the Northern Sea Route en route to Asia. As Russia ramps up oil and gas development throughout its Arctic regions (including in areas immediately adjacent to U.S. waters), it is very likely that this traffi c will increase. Thus, the Arctic is already at risk from an oil spill.
And by not investing in long-term infrastructure for Arctic production, as your comments espouse, our homelands will be more at risk from oil spills. Any potential oil and gas development in the U.S. Arctic will entail extensive investment in oil spill clean-up and response personnel and equipment. This includes other elements of essential infrastructure such as ports and telecommunications. Development will also likely spur the federal government to invest in more icebreakers and to establish a permanent Coast Guard presence in Arctic waters.
These kinds of investments will only make the Arctic environment more secure, not less. But as things stand today, we are only one shipping accident away from environmental catastrophe.
Similarly, your concern over carbon pollution is also misguided. Instead of focusing on the root cause of carbon emissions, which is the consumption of fossil fuels, you posit the simplistic, more parochial solution of halting U.S. oil and gas development in the Arctic. While this may make for lively banter during wine and cheese socials in Olympia, it reeks of the paternalistic past when the state of Alaska was plundered by people from Washington and elsewhere who coveted resources. But instead of whales and fish as it was in those days, it’s wilderness areas and romantic notions of what the Arctic should be that continue to drive outsiders like yourself to glibly advocate for limiting resource development.
It should be noted that the state of Washington emits over twice the amount of carbon dioxide as Alaska. Perhaps we should call on the Environmental Protection Agency to refuse permits to large factories that build airplanes or other products in Washington state so that your levels of carbon pollution are diminished? Of course, we wouldn’t do that out of respect for the people of your state whose livelihoods depend on those vital industries.
If your serious about limiting the entrenchment of fossil fuel use in our society, perhaps you should start first with making more responsible personal choices rather than attacking another state and region’s largest economic generator. Limiting resource development in the U.S. will only benefit foreign nations who have much less respect for the natural environment and who will gladly take our country’s place to fill the demand.
But if you’d like to understand the benefits that responsible resource development can bring to a region, we invite you to come and visit the North Slope. Here you can learn from those of us who can still remember the old times when some parents had to watch their children die in their arms because there was no clinic or medical staff to treat them or when hunters would go out on the ice never to be heard from again due to lack of communications and search and rescue capability. You should listen to stories about children who had to leave their communities to go to Bureau of Indian Affairs schools where they were abused and forbidden to speak our native language or about people getting sick and dying due to unsanitary water and sewer systems.
Thanks to the visions of our elders who recognized the benefits that resource development could bring to our people and region, we Inupiat do not have to endure these types of conditions any longer.
So in the future, we hope you will take the time to more carefully consider the policies for which you advocate. Then perhaps you might bring about more good than harm.
Mayor Charlotte Brower
Charlotte Brower is a life-long Alaskan who has served as the North Slope Borough’s mayor since 2010.
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