Legislators endorse ANWR lease sales

A House Joint Resolution urging the federal government to honor recent oil and gas lease sales and allow permitting to proceed has been approved by 31 members of the Legislature, quickly prompting criticism from those who say the leasing program violates sacred lands.

Twenty-four members of the House and seven senators signed HJR 12, endorsing ANWR leasing and related issues. Similar measures have passed repeatedly in past legislative sessions.

HJR 12 specifically urges the Interior Department and President Joe Biden to proceed with permitting in ANWR, to defend the 2020 record of decision approving the Coastal Plain Oil and Gas Leasing Program and opposing designation of ANWR as a national monument.

HJR 12 also urged repeal of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, to honor the Alaska Statehood Act with respect to the state’s share of bonuses, royalties and rentals from exploration and development in the coastal plain.

The Gwich’in Steering Committee issued a statement condemning the Legislature. According to the statement, proceeding with the lease program would violate sacred lands, threaten the Porcupine caribou herd and Gwich’in way of life, and disrespect the voices of those who opposed the bill in public testimony.

“Those who relentlessly put profits before human health were given all the time they wanted to talk about the money they hope to bring in, yet those of us speaking for the care-taking of animals and land were disrespected,” said Bernadette Demientieff, executive director of the Gwitch’in Steering Committee. “The very legislators who should have learned by now that pushing for oil drilling during a climate crisis is a dead end have again shown a lack of vision and leadership,” she said.

Roselyn Darby of the Holikachuk tribe in Grayling, an Athabascan community, lent her support to the Gwich’in, saying she feels this is a matter affecting all Alaskans. “We want to keep our way of life and live a subsistence lifestyle,” Darby said. “This will negatively affect all of us, not just the Gwich’in or the Inupiaq.”