Protect Alaska's public lands from too much oil development

Please join me to make sure Bernhardt is not confirmed as Sec. of Interior, so we can exercise their right to recreate in our public lands.

Op-ed by City Councilman Mike Dryden

Our national legacy of a million square miles of publicly owned lands makes America unique, but it’s being sacrificed to oil and gas interests, under the Trump administration’s acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt. Alaska is at risk. Our Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is the largest national wildlife refuge in the country.

As a veteran I consider it my duty to protect it for all Americans.

During the government shutdown, National Park employees couldn’t care for our public lands, but the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) never stopped furloughed workers from issuing permits in Alaska to special interests for development.

The shutdown rolled out a welcome mat for the oil and gas industry, while breaking multiple federal laws. Bernhardt used the government shutdown to ignore laws that protect our air, water, wildlife and public lands.

During the shutdown our National Parks lost an estimated $400,000 a day in entrance fees. Before the shutdown the park service already had a massive $11 billion maintenance backlog.

The people of Alaska maintain a special relationship with our environment that transcends ideology, party, and socio-economic station. That’s why I stand with the Elected Officials to Protect America’s Lands. We are the only group of serving elected officials who are also veterans, dedicated to preserving and protecting America’s public lands for all. By doing so we are continuing the Constitutional vows, we take as veterans and elected officials, to preserve and protect our nation.



Last summer, 80 of us, signed and sent a letter to the Interior Secretary in support of reauthorizing the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). A week after we held congressional meetings with senators on Capitol Hill the LWCF funding bill, that had been languishing in committee, was approved. Recently the Senate passed sweeping conservation legislation which included LWCF funding. Now the House needs to act.

Within that bill there is an important provision introduced by Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski, enabling native Alaskans who served in Vietnam to apply for land allotments in Alaska. As a veteran and elected official, I applaud her effort. Our native Alaskans know more than anyone the importance of protecting our public lands. They fought for America and deserve the right to allotments.

But Bernhardt will continue to attack LWCF even if the bill passes. The fund uses money collected from offshore drilling, making it distasteful to his special interest friends.

LWCF has provided funding to help protect some of Alaska’s most iconic public lands while ensuring and maintaining recreational access to hunt, fish, swim, climb and other outdoor activities. The Outdoor Industry Association found that active outdoor recreation generates $7.3 billion in consumer spending in Alaska, 72,000 jobs which generate $2.3 billion in wages and salaries, and produces nearly $337 million annually in state and local tax revenue.

Alaska has received approximately $149 million in LWCF funding over the past five decades, protecting places such as Denali and Wrangell St. Elias National Parks, Alaska Maritime, Kenai and Kodiak National Wildlife Refuges, and the Tongass and Chugach National Forests.

LWCF state assistance grants have supported hundreds of projects across Alaska’s local parks including Campbell Creek Greenbelt Park System, the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve, and the Tanana Lakes Recreation Area. Over $4.2 billion has been made available to state and local governments to fund more than 43,000 conservation projects throughout the U.S. from the LWCF, since 1965.

LWCF will be needed to help our parks recover from the shutdown and to diminish their maintenance backlog.

Bernhardt, is an ex- oil lobbyist with deep ties to corporate polluters. In a year and a half, Bernhardt has made his mark on public lands by reversing key Obama-era climate change policies, and prioritizing oil and gas drilling. He has a solid track record of doing favors for his industry friends at our expense. Bernhardt's ties to the fossil fuel industry are so numerous, he is rumored to have to carry a card with him to keep track of his potential conflicts of interest.

Bernhardt’s record is riddled with conflicts of interest. He cannot be appointed.

America’s public lands are national treasures and must be managed with care. We can find a balance between smart development and conservation rather than giving handouts to oil, gas and mining interests. The Department of the Interior Secretary should uphold the agency’s mission to protect our public lands for future generations.

Veterans don’t distinguish each other by which political party we are affiliated with; we stand by and with our Constitution. It is my duty to stand up to protect our lands for future generations.

Please join me to make sure Bernhardt is not confirmed, so future generations will be able exercise their right to recreate in our public lands.

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