Legislature(2009 - 2010)BUTROVICH 205
04/03/2009 03:30 PM Senate RESOURCES
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* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HJR 18-OPPOSING ANWR WILDERNESS DESIGNATION 4:10:55 PM CO-CHAIR WIELECHOWSKI announced consideration of HJR 18. This being the first hearing, he stated that it is his intent to hear the resolution and hold it until the next hearing to provide members time to consider it and provide comments or suggestions. REPRESENTATIVE CHERISSE MILLETT, Alaska State Legislature, sponsor of HJR 18, said this resolution urges Congress to reject any legislation seeking wilderness designation for the 1002 area of ANWR. This is and has been a very active and contentious subject on Capitol Hill. Alaska voices need to be heard because the wilderness designation cuts off the opportunity to develop oil and gas reserves in the area. "It may be even more important than opening ANWR at this point in time because…once it's closed it would be one enormous task to…undesignate it as wilderness," she said. 4:12:30 PM CARL PORTMAN, Deputy Director, Resource Development Council (RDC), stated support for HJR 18. A wilderness designation would preclude future action by Congress to provide for environmentally responsible exploration and production of oil and gas resources within the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, he said. Federal wilderness should not be expanded to include the 1002 area given that it is considered the nation's most promising onshore oil and gas prospect. This particular area was intentionally excluded from ANWR's large wilderness block in 1980 through a compromise that allowed ANILCA to move forward. This compromise doubled the size of the Alaska National Wildlife Range and converted it to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. 4:13:44 PM ADRIAN HERERA, Arctic Power, stated strong support for HJR 18. Once wilderness designation is achieved on federal land, it is extremely hard to undo, he said. Arctic Power looks at this as a one shot deal because a wilderness designation will effectively lock up the land forevermore. 4:14:34 PM PAM MILLER, Northern Alaska Environmental Center, stated opposition to HJR 18. She pointed out that Republican President Eisenhower established the Arctic National Wildlife Range in 1960 for its wilderness, wildlife, and recreational values. The coastal plain was included. He recognized the value of the entire ecosystem of which the coastal plain is the biological heart. This is where the birds and animals spend critical time for nesting, birthing and nursing. "It is an integral part of the Arctic refuge." MS. MILLER noted that this area was withdrawn in a brilliant balancing act at the time of statehood and the state got 20 million acres, including Prudhoe Bay. USGS believes that nothing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge compares to that field. That's part of the reason it was set aside at the time. Certainly there is some oil potential there but Alaska needs to look to the future and what will help Alaskans. "Conservation will save…by 2030, 17 times more imports than the most optimistic projection of drilling in the Arctic refuge," she said. Describing this as a landmark issue, she asked the committee to also represent the views of the many Alaskans who want to see this area protected. HJR 18 does not do this. SENATOR FRENCH asked the degree of overlap between the coastal plain and the 1002 area. MS. MILLER replied the coastal plain has a number of connotations, but it is legally a term in ANILCA and in that Act the 1002 area is the same as the coastal plain. The 1002 area has 1.5 million acres and all of the geographic features including the bird nesting areas are included in that area. SENATOR FRENCH asked if she is saying that none of the coastal plain is outside the 1002 area. MS. MILLER replied the coastal plain has two definitions just as Prudhoe Bay has two. Prudhoe Bay is a geographic feature, but it's also an oil field and is the term that's commonly used to describe all the oil fields at Prudhoe Bay. Under ANILCA the coastal plain is the same as the 1002 area. SENATOR FRENCH noted that the first "whereas" clause on page 2 outlines a compromise that was struck in 1980. "The deal was you get 17,000 acres designated wilderness and we get 1.5 million acres that might some day be opened for oil drilling." He asked why that deal should change. MS. MILLER replied Congress wanted to retain control over the fate of that area. As part of the deal it withdrew the entire coastal plain and prohibited by law any oil and gas leasing, development, and production from the entire Arctic refuge. That is a higher standard than any other wildlife refuge in the country except for those with a wilderness designation. It was a lame duck deal that resulted in this law, but the language of the law itself is clear. "If there was a backroom promise, that's very different than what is in the public record concerning this 1002 area," she said. CO-CHAIR WIELECHOWSKI recognized that Senator Bunde and Senator Menard joined the committee some time ago. 4:21:31 PM SENATOR HUGGINS asked her top four reasons for opposing drilling in the area. MS. MILLER replied some very special places on earth deserve to be protected. Today there is no technology that is adequate to protect that land. The area should be protected for fish and wildlife habitat, clean water, subsistence for the Gwich'in people, and to meet international treaty obligations. SENATOR WAGONER asked where the Gwich'in people originated. LUCY BEECH, Gwich'in Steering Committee, said their creation story says that the Gwich'in retained part of the caribou heart and the caribou retained part of the Gwich'in heart. "This is where the Creator put us and gave us this amazing gift and place to live and to take care of." SENATOR WAGONER stated for the record that he has read that the Gwich'in people migrated from Canada's Northwest Territories. MS. BEECH said at one time the Gwich'in were nomadic and followed the caribou, but for 20,000 years they have lived in communities in what is now the northeast part of Alaska and northwest part of Canada. CO-CHAIR WIELECHOWSKI asked Ms. Beech if she had testimony to offer. 4:25:53 PM LUCY BEECH, Gwich'in Steering Committee, said the Porcupine caribou herd is currently moving from its wintering grounds to its calving and nursery grounds in the longest migration of any land mammal in the world. Soon, birds from all 50 states and six continents will be headed there. The 1002 area is one of the few places on earth that polar bears go to den. It is one of the last intact Arctic and Subarctic ecosystems in the world. It has the most biodiversity of the circumpolar north region. It is an incredibly valuable area and is very important to people of the Gwich'in Nation. "We of course want to see it protected; the caribou has sustained us since time immemorial." 4:28:43 PM MS. BEECH said Alaska Natives have seen vast and difficult changes. We've done an amazing job surviving in the Arctic and Subarctic, but we've thrown into corporations and have subsistence laws to follow, she said. It's an entirely different way of life and it isn't easy. "We're asking to hang on to something that we have left, something that has been passed down to us from our ancestors that we want to pass on to our children and our grandchildren," she stated. In 1988 the Gwich'in Nation determined it would oppose development in the calving and nursery ground and it has continued to affirm that position. "We are people that want to continue our way of life." SENATOR WAGONER asked if the Gwich'in Nation ever sold any oil or gas rights to oil companies. MS. BEECH replied at one time they did lease an area that was not along a migratory route or in a calving or nursery area. However, when the elders saw it was impacting small animals like squirrels and rabbits they put a stop to it. "That was the Arctic Village in Venetie in the southern part their reserve." 4:31:07 PM CHRIS CANNON, representing himself, said wilderness is an important reason why he lives in Alaska. He can't understand how opening the last five percent of the North Slope to oil and gas companies can be a compromise. He'd like to see wilderness in Alaska that represents the Arctic and this is all that's left. Already it's not a true compromise. If we open our minds and look at other sources of energy, we won't have to fight over sensitive areas. He suggested that the same drilling rigs could be used to tap into geothermal almost anywhere in Alaska, not in just one oil patch. CO-CHAIR WIELECHOWSKI closed public testimony and set HJR 18 aside.