Begich Announces Legislation to Spur Development in Alaska
Bill creates OCS coordinator to oversee development in the Arctic
Recognizing the key to Alaska's long-term economic stability is the development of the state's oil and gas resources, U.S. Sen. Mark Begich today announced measures that will help streamline the federal approval process for development in the state. In his joint address to the Alaska State Legislature, Begich announced introduction of legislation creating a federal coordinator who would oversee and streamline development in Alaska's Outer-Continental Shelf (OCS), and he urged serious discussion of which federal agency should have jurisdiction over air permitting.
"Every single day I am standing up for Alaska and educating federal bureaucrats and members of Congress about our unique needs and challenges," Begich said. "Starting with President Obama, I'll continue telling federal officials when they're wrong on Alaska. And I'll keep working with you and the State for Alaska's fair share of declining federal resources and for the right federal decisions on Alaska development."
Begich said his legislation to establish an Arctic OCS federal coordinator creates a joint regional lease and permit processing office for Alaska's OCS region, modeled after the federal gas pipeline coordinator position. Begich said the office would have authority to work across the many agencies causing Alaska so much heartburn today - EPA, Army Corps of Engineers and the Interior Department.
"The federal OCS coordinator would work with the State of Alaska and affected local governments to streamline development in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas, which hold such promise for future oil and gas development," Begich said.
Begich added we need to address the two different air permitting systems in the country. There are currently two process, and two different federal agencies overseeing air permits - one for the Gulf of Mexico and one for everyone else - including the Arctic.
"This makes no sense. It's not fair and it puts companies with projects in the Arctic at a competitive disadvantage. We need to level the playing field," Begich said. "It's time to move all air permitting under the Interior Department where air permits were issued quickly before the BP spill."
Begich said he believes Alaska is at a crossroads and thanks to the wisdom of the pioneers who built Alaska, Alaska enjoys enormous wealth that is the envy of every state in America with $40 billion in the Permanent Fund, a $10 billion budget reserve and limitless opportunity.
"Yet I believe our greatest asset is the entrepreneurial spirit of independent-minded Alaskans, a can-do optimism that allows us to flourish in the face of great distance, extreme climate and a small, far-flung population," Begich said.
Acknowledging the need to cut federal spending and reduce the national debt, and the challenge of the new environment of no federal earmarks, Begich said Alaska needs to focus on three areas to build a strong and sustainable economy; cutting-edge resource development, seizing the enormous opportunities in the Arctic, and transforming Alaska's technology-based economy for the future. Begich said he shares the concern of many regarding the reduced flow of oil through the Trans-Alaska pipeline.
"One of the best long-term prospects for filling the oil pipeline and reducing America's dependence on foreign oil is from the enormous reserves likely beneath federal lands and waters in the outer continental shelf, the Arctic Refuge and the National Petroleum Reserve- Alaska. These prospects alone are projected to hold 40 to 60 billion barrels, nearly a decade's worth of U.S. consumption," Begich said.
Begich said he will soon request President Obama replace the administration's "climate czar" who recently left her job, with a "development czar." He said such a shift would help focus the administration on the right priorities for the nation: producing American energy from American soil with American workers.
Part of building Alaska's future economy includes encouraging more home-grown entrepreneurs to grow cutting-edge industries in Alaska, Begich said. That effort includes more investment in programs that support science, technology, engineering and math, known as STEM. Begich recently introduced legislation focusing on STEM education. Also, linking Alaskans with high-speed access to the Internet, and encouraging the growth of small businesses.
Begich highlighted two Alaska businesses as examples of the type of ingenuity needed to succeed in the 21st Century. He talked about the success of former Navy combat pilot Skip Nelson of ADS-B Technologies based at Merrill Field in Anchorage. Nelson's team has been on the cutting edge of national aviation safety technology and was recently selected by the FAA to improve safety and bring greater efficiency to the American airspace system.
He also talked about Colleen Riley, owner of Kachemak Research Development in Homer, whose company is developing an under-vehicle system used to inspect vehicles at military bases.