Alaska’s Congressional Delegation Monday sent a letter to the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) requesting an 80-day extension to the current comment deadline for the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) proposed rule to impose sweeping restrictions across 13.1 million acres of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A). U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan (both R-Alaska) and U.S. Representative Mary Peltola (D-Alaska) requested the extension based on a range of substantive and process-related issues with the proposed rule, and “to allow for the full participation of all communities and stakeholders on the North Slope, especially the indigenous people who have called the region home for millennia.”
“Alaskans are asking for more time,” the delegation wrote in its letter to Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland. “Since the release of this proposed rule on September 8, 2023, our offices have received hundreds of questions and inquiries about it. An overwhelming sentiment among these requests is that the initial comment period was insufficient, a 10-day comment period extension is essentially meaningless, and the comment period must be extended to provide enough time to actually and properly understand and react to the rule. This is especially true for the Alaska Natives who live on the North Slope, who have been engaged in their traditional whaling hunts for subsistence throughout the fall. As these Alaskans work to provide for their families and winter food security, little time is left for them to pore through a complex rule with an artificially short comment period that will affect their regional economy and homelands for decades to come.”
The delegation also cited the lack of meaningful consultation from DOI.
“The Biden administration has touted Tribal consultation as a cornerstone of its policymaking efforts. The Department’s own Manual, as revised by this administration and extended to Alaska Native Corporations, requires that “all Bureaus and Offices shall make good-faith efforts to invite Tribes to consult early in the planning process and throughout the decision-making process and engage in robust, interactive, pre-decisional, informative, and transparent consultation when planning actions with Tribal implications. It is the policy of the Department to seek consensus with impacted Tribes in accordance with the Consensus-Seeking Model.” It is our understanding that the administration did not meet any of these commitments in promulgating this proposed rule and then publishing it with an artificially short comment period. These failures of the Department are unconscionable. We demand that meaningful consultations and engagement occur with Alaska Native communities in the region before any further action is taken on this proposed rule.”
Among other issues, the delegation cited the issues that Alaskans have encountered in their attempts to provide comment on the proposed rule.
“At the time of this letter, the Department has held one public meeting in a virtual capacity, one public meeting in Anchorage, and zero in North Slope communities,” the delegation wrote. “Public meetings scheduled for Atqasuk and Nuiqsut have been postponed indefinitely, while public meetings in Utqiagvik and Wainwright have not even been scheduled. BLM also randomly noticed a meeting for Washington, DC, and then almost immediately thereafter canceled it, creating even more confusion. Meanwhile, the Department has refused to schedule meetings with Alaska Native stakeholders on the North Slope to discuss this rule – in fact, your office has refused meeting requests from them on seven different occasions. None of these considerations remotely suggest that the comment period should close at the time that BLM has proposed; rather, these considerations reveal the need for significant extension.”
The full letter is available here.
The NPR-A was first set aside by Congress in 1923 for the purposes of oil and gas development. In 1980, Congress amended the Naval Petroleum Reserves Production Act to direct the Secretary to “conduct an expeditious program of competitive leasing” in the area. On September 8, 2023, DOI proposed to withdraw millions of acres within the NPR-A, by suddenly and dramatically reinterpreting the law so that it can treat 13.1 million acres of Special Areas in the NPR-A as de facto federal wilderness.