Alaska lawmakers urge Goldman Sachs to reconsider decision to stop funding Arctic drilling

FILE - In this undated photo provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, an airplane flies over caribou from the Porcupine Caribou Herd on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in northeast Alaska. The refuge takes up an area nearly the size of South Carolina in Alaska's northeast corner. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via AP)
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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - A group of Alaska House legislators is pushing back against the investment bank Goldman Sachs’ recent decision to stop funding Arctic drilling projects.

Goldman Sachs announced on Sunday that it would no longer finance Arctic drilling projects due to concerns about greenhouse gas emissions and manmade climate change.

In a letter released on Friday penned by Rep. Sara Rasmussen, R-Anchorage, 17 members of the Alaska House of Representatives, including two Democrats, asked the bank to reconsider its decision.

“We ask that Goldman Sachs … reevaluate this policy and carefully consider how it can be a partner in businesses and industries that sustain the people of Alaska through responsible resource development,” the letter reads.

In a phone interview, Rasmussen said that she hasn’t yet received a response from Goldman Sachs, but she has been discussing the next steps with other legislators.

One proposal: To invite executives from Goldman Sachs up to Arctic Alaska and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to have a look at the ongoing oil drilling, which the letter describes as an “excellent example of how exploration, development and production of oil and gas resources from land is much safer and more environmentally friendly than it might be offshore.”

The letter points out that the Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation has previously invested with the bank and suggests that the bank’s recent decision imperils that good relationship.

Rasmussen said while no decisions have been made, concerned legislators have started talking about the potential of legislative action that could stop the Permanent Fund Corporation from investing with Goldman Sachs.

“The conversation about investment has come up, but we haven’t made any decisions,” said Rasmussen.

The letter also brings up public opinion. It cites recent votes on resolutions in the state House and Senate in favor of drilling in ANWR, “showing overwhelmingly bipartisan support,” and mentions public polling.

A 2019 survey by the Alaska Chamber conducted by Dittman Research found about 65% of 705 Alaskans surveyed supported drilling in the refuge. In contrast, a 2019 survey by Yale Climate Communication Research found that 67% of those surveyed opposed Arctic drilling, a lower percentage than the national average.

The letter also mentions the unanimous vote of the Voice of the Arctic, an advocacy organization in the North Slope, in favor of drilling in ANWR. Christin Swearingen of the Alaska Chapter of the Sierra Club, said that many Gwich’in - who reside in interior areas that rely on caribou who breed in the refuge but who wouldn’t directly benefit from development - oppose drilling.

“I think it is important to recognize the opinions of the Indigenous people of the region,” she said, pointing out that the Gwich’in Steering Committee is strongly opposed to ANWR development.

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