Alaska’s Senators have responded to questions on what they knew leading up to President Trump's revocation of former President Obama's order creating the Northern Bering Sea Resilience Area.
The order required the federal government to consult with Alaska Native tribes on decisions affecting the Northern Bering Sea and to gather traditional knowledge to inform those decisions regarding the region. Last month, Trump extinguished that order, removing the tribal consultation requirement and opening Arctic waters to off-shore oil and gas leasing.
The Bering Sea Elders Group, which advocated for the order, says that the Congressional Delegation agreed to notify them if its revocation was being discussed. Group member Charles Degnan of Unalakleet says that they were never contacted.
“It really showed us what government thinks of tribal members that live on the Northern Bering Sea," said Degnan.
The elders say that they held a meeting in each of the Alaska delegates offices. Senator Dan Sullivan responded Tuesday during public radio's statewide call-in program "Talk of Alaska," saying that the elders never talked to him about the issue.
“It just underscores that fact that we need to do a better job of stakeholder engagement,” said the senator.
Sullivan says he knew the day before the signing that the Bering Sea would be included in the order.
Senator Lisa Murkowski said that she found out the day of the signing. Though she says she had agreed to contact the Elders Group, without forewarning of the issue she didn’t follow through.
“I think it would have been different if there had been an effort that I had been involved in to try to repeal that, but I was not a part of that,” said Murkowski.
Elder Charles Degnan says Murkowski still should have contacted them that day.
“That’s our food resource that goes through there," he said. "We depend on all the fish and game and natural resources that we harvest.”
Mukowski says that nevertheless, with the Arctic now open for potential energy leasing, she remains glad to have been part of the signing with President Trump.
Senators Sullivan and Murkowski both support opening the region to leasing.
Sullivan says that the element in the Obama executive order he did like was the mechanism for consulting Alaska Native groups. Murkowski said that she was interested in working with tribes to develop legislative, or other avenues through the administration, to consult and incorporate traditional knowledge into Arctic plans.