ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - Senator Lisa Murkowski spoke at the Alaska Federation of Nations Convention Saturday about challenges impacting the state, focusing on the threats posed by climate change and the need to develop energy resilience.
Notably, Murkowski didn’t mention the possibility of opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) for drilling, a topic of national debate in the U.S. Senate this week.
On the topic of climate change, Murkowski spoke about many issues facing Alaska. The senator spoke about recent fall flooding in Utqiagvik and melting sea ice that has previously acted as a shield to protect the arctic community.
Murkowski discussed worsening coastal erosion and threats to the Interior, including thawing permafrost and changing migration patterns.
In terms of successes for the state, Murkowski pointed to microgrids in Cordova and Kodiak being almost 100% reliant on renewable energy.
After her speech, Channel 2 spoke to the senator about the perceived recent push to open ANWR for drilling by the U.S. Senate.
Meanwhile, a group of Alaska natives formed a coalition called "Defend the Sacred AK." They gathered outside the Den’aina Center "to stop Pebble mine, keep oil drilling out of the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, say no to an Ambler Road, protect Southeast Alaska’s waterways from transboundary mining, and reject offshore oil development in the Arctic Ocean."
Protesters alleged that a budget resolution passed through the U.S. Senate earlier in the week was a way to sneak ANWR drilling through a budget bill.
Murkowski denied the charge saying, “To suggest that this was somehow snuck in, demonstrates they either didn’t read the instruction to the Energy Committee or didn’t read the amendment that was struck down.”
The senator then detailed that as the chairman of the Energy Committee, she intends to hold hearings about how to raise $1 billion in revenue as instructed by the budget resolution.
“Is ANWR one of the options? Absolutely. Are we going to raise that in the committee? Absolutely. Will that be open and transparent? Absolutely,” said Murkowski.
Murkowski then explained that drilling since the 1970s has become much less environmentally degrading.
“What you have is the ability to access a resource in a fragile environment but using a technology that limits the footprint on the surface and allowing an access to the reef source down below,” said Murkowski.
Outside the Center, Bernadette Demientieff, the Executive Director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee, said the protesters were worried about the threat arctic drilling would have to the Porcupine caribou herd.
Demientieff also spoke about the danger she believed resource development posed to Alaska Native cultures.
“We're here to speak for the sacred lands in Alaska, whether it’s the north, the south, we're dealing with a great amount of changes right now and people are choosing to ignore that. We're the ones who are going to have to live with the aftermath,” said Demientieff.