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Commerce Committee Approves Begich Proposals to Support Responsible Arctic Development


Bipartisan Support to Improve Coast Guard and NOAA Resources

The Senate Commerce Committee today approved several provisions by Sen. Mark Begich to enhance the federal resources and local participation in an effort to promote responsible resource development in Arctic waters, including the Beaufort and Chukchi seas.

The provisions were included in a larger bill, the Securing Health for Oceans Resources and Environment Act (SHORE - S.3597), approved by the Commerce Committee. The SHORE Act was prompted in part by the BP Deepwater Horizon tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico. The Arctic provisions were based on legislation originally introduced by Begich last year and expanded earlier this summer.

"The SHORE Act takes a big step forward in the ability of federal and private entities to prevent and respond to oil spills," Begich said. "It also finally recognizes the steps we need to take now in the Arctic to ensure responsible oil and gas development off Alaska's northern coast, including increased citizen participation early in the development process to help avoid the endless lawsuits that have halted Arctic development in recent years."

Significant provisions affecting Alaska include:

Expanded Coast Guard capacity in the Arctic - Authorizes Coast Guard to assess and take action to reduce the risk and improve capacity to respond to a maritime disaster in the Beaufort and Chukchi Sea. The SHORE Act directs the Commandant of the Coast Guard to prioritize resources to address spill preparedness and infrastructure, expand search and rescue capabilities, and enhance vessel monitoring and tracking systems as well as navigational and communication capabilities;

Enhanced oil spill research to support Arctic development - Incorporating key elements of Begich's Responsible Arctic Energy Development Act of 2010 (S.3584), the SHORE Act boosts the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's ability to research spill prevention and response techniques in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas, study ecological baselines, identify sensitive habitats, and initiate spill trajectory modeling;

Wildlife restoration and ocean monitoring - The SHORE Act includes language proposed by Begich to recognize the importance of wildlife restoration efforts, such as those pioneered by the Alaska Sealife Center, as a critical part of the spill response.  It also includes wording to enhance the role of the Integrated Ocean Observing System, of which the Alaska Ocean Observing System is part, as the central collection point for oceans data information.

Increased transparency and local involvement in development - The bill includes a Begich-proposed amendment which establishes an Arctic Regional Citizens Advisory Council (RCAC), modeled after similar citizen's groups in Prince William Sound and Cook Inlet after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill to provide a forum for greater local participation in oil development decisions, oversight of spill planning and preparedness, and monitoring of environmental conditions.

Drafted in consultation with residents of the Arctic region, the Arctic RCAC would be composed of seven voting members that encompass local government, economic development and subsistence interests: the mayors of the North Slope Borough and Northwest Arctic Borough, the presidents of the Arctic Slope and NANA Regional Corporations, and the chairs of the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission, the Nanuuq Commission and the Beluga Whale Commission. Funded by the oil industry, the Council also would include a number of ex officio members, including representatives of state and federal regulatory agencies.  The bill also includes a provision to help stabilize funding for the work of the Cook Inlet and Prince William Sound RCACs.

"Rather than lawyers and judges making decisions about Alaska resource development, I think Alaskans should be involved in the process from Day 1," Begich said. "RCAC's have proven their worth in Prince William Sound and Cook Inlet without harming the oil and gas industry, so the people of northern Alaska asked for greater participation through this forum. I've been working with affected groups, including the State of Alaska, for more than a year on this concept."

"No one has been more outspoken in advocating for responsible domestic oil and gas development in the U.S. Senate than I have," Begich said. "Exercising leadership to achieve responsible development rather than filing lawsuits will pay long-term dividends for Alaskans."
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