ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - A Tuesday public meeting set to take place in Anchorage on the Interior Department’s proposed 5-year outer continental shelf plan has been postponed. This is a result of the recent government shutdown, according to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.
The meeting was one of several taking place across the country, through the month of February. A total of eight meetings have been rescheduled since the shutdown. According to BOEM Alaska spokesperson John Callahan, the meetings are organized and attended by BOEM staff based in Washington D.C., but the brief lapse in federal funding barred them from traveling to venues like Anchorage.
Federal law requires the Interior Secretary to develop a new OCS program every five years. With the Obama administration’s five-year plan set to expire in 2018, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced the new proposal earlier this month. Consistent with the Trump administration’s goal of expanding America’s energy industry, the plan would make more than 90 percent of the country’s offshore acreage available to potential exploration and development.
The OCS drilling plan, in its current form, proposes the largest number of lease sales in U.S. history, including 19 in the Alaska region alone. Three lease sales are proposed for the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas each, as well as two for Cook Inlet and one lease sale in 11 other development areas off Alaska’s coastline.
According to Callahan, the purpose of the public meetings is to gather input that will help the feds create a draft environmental impact statement. The draft statement will then be subject to another round of public meetings, before the final version is compiled and released.
Environmental organizations, like the Alaska Wilderness League, are opposed to the plan because of the potential impact to marine ecosystems and subsistence practices. They also feel the public comment process is ineffective.
"[The plan] would open nearly all of Alaska’s coasts to offshore oil and gas leasing, threatening much of the Arctic Ocean, including areas critical to marine life and traditional uses, and coastal communities around the state," the organization wrote in a Facebook post promoting a Tuesday rally that has also been rescheduled.
"In the past these plans have been developed with years of public input and hearing in communities around the state. This time around, the hearing in Anchorage is the only one is Alaska."
Meanwhile, the Alaska Oil and Gas Association supports the plan, and voiced confidence in the public comment process.
"I’ve been with AOGA for four years, and in other aspects when the federal government has asked for public comment that public comment has been persuasive," said AOGA environmental counsel Joshua Kindred. "So people shouldn’t feel that it falls on deaf ears – it’s one of the factors they will consider moving forward."
BOEM says it plans to release new dates for the meetings in the next few days. Public comments can also be submitted online to the agency's website HERE.