Today U.S. Representatives John Dingell (D-MI) and Betty McCollum (D-MN), along with 61 Members of Congress, called on Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar to adopt a balanced approach to management of lands on the North Slope of Alaska:
The Department of the Interior is in the process of developing a first-ever comprehensive management plan for the nearly 23 million acre National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPRA), the nation's largest public land management unit.
"There is room for balance in the NPRA that includes both production and protection," said Representative Dingell, also a member of the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission. "The areas surrounding Teshekpuk Lake are migratory bird factories that provide valuable habitats for birds that migrate across the world. Protection of these habitat areas will benefit wildlife, sportsmen, and conservationists around the world and I believe that Secretary Salazar can ensure those benefits while allowing oil and gas development where it makes the most sense."
"Alternative B reliably protects environmentally sensitive areas such as the wetlands surrounding Teshekpuk Lake, long-recognized as a globally Important Bird Area for breeding waterfowl that migrate to Minnesota and states from coast to coast," said Representative McCollum.
In 1976, Congress enacted the Naval Petroleum Reserves Production Act (NPRPA) that recognized the exceptional environmental values in the NPRA and transferred the area from the U.S. Navy to the Department of the Interior. Congress directed the Secretary of the Interior to identify and protect special areas in the NPRA.
Under NPRPA the Secretary of the Interior is required to determine what areas in the NPRA to lease for oil and gas exploration while requiring "maximum protection" of areas having "significant subsistence, recreational, fish and wildlife, or historical or scenic value."
Congress has also required that there be an oil and gas leasing program in the NPRA. The Department of the Interior has been offering lease sales in the NPRA for decades. There have been 11 sales since 1982, and the Obama Administration is now holding annual lease sales, the most recent was in December, 2011. More than six million acres have been leased and dozens of exploration wells have been drilled.
Congress has a long, bipartisan history of supporting a balanced approach to management in the NPRA, one that protects environmentally sensitive areas while still supporting energy production and development.
Protection of Teshekpuk Lake, an area that provides globally important nesting habitat for migratory waterfowl, has had broad bipartisan support from successive Republican and Democratic Administrations. Waterfowl that breed at Teshekpuk Lake overwinter in states from coast to coast.