FAIRBANKS, Alaska - Community members gathered for a public meeting about the environmental impact of new oil development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The meeting soon became contentious as protestors interrupted and shouted out their concerns.
Alaska Native Elders and other supporters joined their voices to oppose oil development that would affect the Porcupine Caribou Herd. Around 100 people came to listen and express their disapproval of a planned lease sale in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, commonly known as ANWR. Federal law requires parts of ANWR to be leased.
The meeting went over the environmental impact and the alternatives that have been proposed to protect the Porcupine Caribou Herd calving grounds. The Department of the Interior had about a dozen representatives and experts there to answer the public's questions about the issue. Also on site where two court reporters to take oral comments.
"This particular topic is one that is very polarizing,” said Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management Joe Balash. “There are very strong feelings, and that is something that we recognize going into this. Our effort here tonight was to help provide an opportunity to deliver comments but also to ask questions of the people who have helped write this document."
After a presentation, the meeting quickly went off script with protestors demanding to speak. Eventually the mic was handed over to the activists and a stenographer was brought out to record their comments.
"This is a part of the fast track NEPA process that they have been moving forward with,” said Adrien Titus, a community organizer for the Native Movement. “Without public consultation, including the indigenous people of Alaska that live in these marginalized communities that are really impacted by climate change that is really exasperated by the fossil fuel industry."
Officials from the government claim that despite the vocal protestors, a majority of Alaskans want ANWR to be developed, a claim that triable leaders would dispute.
Public meetings will be held in communities across Alaska over the next few weeks. People who want to voice their opinion can also go to the Bureau of Land Management's website to leave a comment.