Trump issues executive order revoking Northern Bering Sea protection and tribal participation
President Donald Trump signed an executive order last Friday that rolled back not only outer continental shelf oil and gas development restrictions in the Arctic, Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, but also revoked the Northern Bering Sea Climate Change Resilience strategy put into place per executive order by President Barack Obama in December 2016.
Kawerak Inc., the Association of Village Council Presidents and the Bering Sea Elders Group were instrumental in advocating for protections and tribal participation included in the Northern Bering Sea Climate Resilience order. Obama’s executive order titled “Northern Bering Sea Climate Resilience” reasoned that Arctic environmental stewardship was in the national interest and that the U.S. has “resolved to confront the challenges of a changing Arctic by working to conserve Arctic biodiversity; support and engage Alaska Native tribes; incorporate traditional knowledge into decision making and build a sustainable Arctic economy that relies on the highest safety and environmental standards.”
The order established the existing boundary for bottom trawl fishing, closed Norton Sound and the Northern Bering Sea around the Seward Peninsula and Bering Strait for oil and gas development and established an advisory council including tribal representatives to guide federal decisions being made for this region.
On Friday, this policy was nixed when Trump signed an executive order that plainly states under Section 4(c): “To further streamline existing regulatory authorities, Executive Order 13754 of December 9, 2016 (Northern Bering Sea Climate Resilience), is hereby revoked.”
The news hit hard since it came without warning from the Trump administration or the Alaska Congressional Delegation, which in December blasted Obama for issuing the order establishing the Northern Bering Sea Climate Resilience, and which applauded Trump signing the executive order on Friday. The Bering Sea Elders Group issued a statement saying that Northern Bering Sea Climate Resilience “was the product of years of tireless work by local Alaskans, Tribes and nonprofits who – when faced with the devastating effect of climate change and the dramatic increase of large scale shipping right in our front doorstep – sought to create a way for us to have a say in what happens in and to our waters.” The key to Obama’s EO was the Bering Sea Intergovernmental Tribal Advisory Council through which coastal Alaskans had a voice in federal government management of these waters.
“Today, the President took that away,” the Bering Sea Elders’ press release reads. “Alaska’s own congressional delegation stood by as local Alaskan voices were removed from decisions that affect our lives, and now we are at the mercy of federal decision-makers only.”
“The Bering Sea Elders Group condemns the Trump Administration for its actions, and is deeply distressed by the lack of communication from the Alaska Delegation,” the Bering Sea Elders said.
Trump’s executive order, titled “implementing an America-First offshore energy strategy,” sets forth a policy that has the goal to “maintain global leadership in energy innovation, exploration and production” by increasing domestic energy production. It is a stark departure from Obama’s ‘all of the above’ energy approach that included the development of renewable energy, not only fossil-fuel resources. Trump’s order states, “America must put the energy needs of American families and businesses first and continue implementing a plan that ensures security and economic vitality for decades to come.”
The executive order states that low energy prices— a current reality that sent the Alaska state budget into crisis without alleviating the cost of energy paid for in rural Alaska — driven by increased American energy supply, would benefit American families and help reinvigorate American manufacturing and job growth.
The order instructs the Secretary of the Interior to consult with the Secretary of Defense to revise the schedule of proposed oil and gas lease sales, including outer continental shelf planning areas in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas as well as in the Gulf of Mexico, the mid-and South Atlantic.
Designed to expedite permitting, the order instructs the Interior Secretary in coordination with the Secretary of Commerce to allow, to the maximum extent of the law, a “streamlined permitting approach for privately funded seismic data research and collection aimed at expeditiously determining offshore energy resource potential.”
The order also calls for a review of OCS blowout preventer system and well control regulations; orders the Secretaries of Interior and Commerce to expedite all permits dealing with incidental harassment, incidental take of marine mammals and seismic surveys; and orders a review to rescind a technical guidance memorandum that assesses the effects of man-made sounds and noise on marine mammal hearing.
Coastal tribes from Bristol Bay in the south to Little Diomede in the Bering Strait through AVCP, Kawerak and the Bering Sea Elders Group advocated for safeguarding the marine environment, but the Alaska delegation maintains that Obama acted unilaterally. In a press release issued on Friday, the Alaska delegation lauds Trump for lifting leasing withdrawals in the Arctic and ordering reviews of regulatory rules dealing with offshore oil development, but does not mention rescinding the Northern Bering Sea Climate Resilience order. In stark contrast to the allegation that local voices were silenced through Trump’s EO, Senator Lisa Murkowski said, “When President Trump took office, he promised to listen to the people and return power to them, and today he and Secretary Zinke delivered for Alaskans.”
According to Bering Sea Elders, representatives from their group sought out the Trump administration and each member of the Alaska congressional delegation in January 2017 “to talk and make certain they all understood that the people of coastal Alaska wrote the terms of Executive Order 13574.” The group heard that the delegation was not happy about the process through which Obama issued his executive order, but the Senators and Congressman Young were fine with most of the terms. “At the request of the Elders, each member of the Alaska Delegation even agreed to notify our communities if they learned that revocation of Order 13754 was even being discussed so that we could participate in the discussions. We were never contacted,” the Bering Sea Elders presser reads.
When asked for comment specifically on section 4(c) of Trump’s order, Senator Lisa Murkowski’s energy spokes person Nicole Daigle said in an email to the Nugget, “Sen. Murkowski supports a fair and open federal decision-making process that seeks input from all affected stakeholders. She believes the Bering Sea Elders Group and other local stakeholder groups should be consulted by federal officials, and that both their views and traditional knowledge should be incorporated into federal decisions affecting the region. The Senator expects that to be the approach taken by every administration—but recognizing that local voices have not always been heard and respected, she has been working and continues to work on legislation to ensure sufficient consultation, greater engagement, and the incorporation of local knowledge.”
Murkowski’s office did not respond when asked for clarification of that statement in the light of Trump’s removal of that participation mechanism by revoking EO 13754.
Senator Dan Sullivan’s spokesman Mike Anderson responded to a request for comment, “Throughout his time in public service in Alaska, Senator Sullivan has always advocated for more meaningful input from local stakeholders into projects that will affect our state including with Native organizations and tribes who have traditional and local knowledge that is critical to effective decision making and policy development. He believes that key stakeholders on Alaska issues, be they members of Congress or groups like the Bering Sea Elders Group, should be consulted on matters that impact them. This consultation is more important than ever under the current administration, which is establishing a strong national policy supporting the safe and responsible exploration, development and production of our natural resources. As such, the Senator will continue working to ensure advance engagement and consultation is a priority as this strategy is implemented.”
A follow up question asking for clarification also remained unanswered as of press time.
Alaska Congressman Don Young did not respond at all to Nome Nugget requests for comment.
Kawerak Inc. issued a press release on Monday, stressing that a healthy marine ecosystem is a matter of food security and “also allows us to maintain our unique cultural identity and rich heritage.”
Looking forward, Kawerak asserts a long-term focus and states that regardless of who is in power at the moment, “our region’s Tribal leaders will continue to advocate for a seat at the table.”
“While this latest Executive Order is disappointing, it is also causing confusion,” the Kawerak press release reads. “However, Kawerak believes there is a path forward and our Tribal leaders maintain a resolute desire to strengthen national security and meet the needs of villages in Alaska. We will pursue the possibility of administrative and legislative resolves with the Administration and Alaska’s Congressional Delegation; we stand ready to work cooperatively and collaborate for the benefit of the people of the Bering Strait Region of Alaska and the rest of the nation.”