An Interior Department official and the leader of an Alaska Native group offered very different perspectives on the Biden administration's recent moves against oil and gas drilling in Alaska during a pair of congressional hearings.
"The intent is to put some rules in place to make certain we follow not only the intent of Congress but to manage those special area[s] in a way that benefits the generations," Michael Nedd, deputy director of operations for the Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management (BLM), said in response to questioning from Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.).
Mr. Nedd testified during the first of the two hearings, which were held by a subcommittee of the House Natural Resources Committee on Sept. 19.
In her opening statement, the subcommittee's ranking Democrat member, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) claimed that "indigenous Alaskans affected first and foremost by development" helped lead the effort on those moves to restrict hydrocarbon extraction in their state.
Others at the hearing suggested that the demand for oil and gas from the North Slope wasn't that high.
"When the Trump administration did have a lease sale, there wasn't much interest," Mr. Huffman said, referencing the results of a 2021 auction.
Limiting Economic PotentialTestifying during the subcommittee's second hearing, Mr. Harcharek was very clear that he anticipates that the decisions will negatively affect his people and their communities in northern Alaska.
"Do you believe the administration's recent announcements will lead to high-standard investment and sustainable development across the region?" Rep. Pete Stauber (R-Minn.) asked Mr. Harcharek.
"I think that the recent announcements, clearly in my written testimony and what I just said, limit our ability to responsibly develop our resources, especially on the North Slope, where these two policies [are] targeted," Mr. Harcharek responded.
"It shrinks our economic potential."
He explained just how much the Inupiat-dominated North Slope Borough depends on fossil fuels.
"Ninety-five percent of the revenue that's generated with the North Slope Borough is funded through the taxation of oil and gas infrastructure, and those dollars are reinvested into the eight communities that we have to provide modern services," he said.
"That tax base provides employment opportunities and services, like modern water and sewer system[s], waste collection, search and rescue, wildlife research, planning and community development, education, and road construction and maintenance in all eight communities on the North Slope."
In his written testimony, Mr. Harcharek expanded on the dramatic effect of those tax revenues for Inupiat in the region.
"In 1969, before our people had any land rights and no economic prospects as a result, life expectancy was just 34 years. By 1980, our average life expectancy was 65, roughly equivalent with Libya and lower than North Korea. Today, our people can expect to live to an average of 77 years," he wrote, attributing that rise to "resource development projects."
Rep. Tom Tiffany (R-Wis.) marveled when Mr. Harcharek mentioned the link between resource development and rising life expectancy.
Alaska Native Representative Refutes BLM OfficialMr. Harcharek and Mr. Nedd told very different stories when it came to the Biden administration's coordination with Alaskans before making the controversial moves on the wildlife refuge and NRPA.
Mr. Nedd told Mr. Stauber that there was meaningful "engagement" before the lease revocations and acreage protection proposal were announced.
"I don't believe all people were consulted," Mr. Stauber replied.
Mr. Tiffany pressed the BLM official on the issue.
"If the tribal members in northern Alaska, if they would say to you that you did not consult them, if we hear testimony to that effect, would you reconsider that decision of the withdrawal in Alaska?" he asked.
"The secretary made a decision to cancel those lease[s], and her decision is part of looking at the supplemental to that analysis to determine how to move forward," Mr. Nedd responded, referring to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland.
"So you accept that the Bureau of Land Management, the United States' government, did not consult properly with these tribal people?" Mr. Tiffany asked.
"It's my understanding that consultation took place, and it's my understanding that, again, after the secretary looked at the factors of the legal deficiency, she made a decision." Mr. Nedd responded.
When asked by Mr. Stauber if Mr. Nedd's comments on consultation were accurate, Mr. Harcharek explicitly refuted them.
"Do you believe the administration properly coordinated with tribal communities before making these disastrous policy decisions?" Mr. Stauber asked.
"In this case, it's clear to me," Mr. Harcharek responded, "with [the] members that make up the Voice, some of them being cooperating agencies, they have not consulted with the people on the North Slope."