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Sierra Club Arctic Advocates Speak Out in Washington

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Record temperatures, record storms, record droughts, record wildfires -- and record profits for big oil and gas companies. With extreme weather fueled by the climate crisis affecting the lives of more than 230 million Americans since 2007, calls for action are ranging from the White House to the kitchen tables of the 77% of the country that believe climate action should be a priority for our government. Meanwhile, well-financed fossil fuel interests are pushing projects like the Keystone XL pipeline and drilling in America's Arctic that would only double down on climate-disrupting dirty fuels.

This morning, The Sierra Club hosted a briefing entitled “Protect Our Earth: Keep Dirty Fuels Underneath It” for Congressional staff  to discuss the choices Congress faces for our nation’s energy future, the costs of dirty fuels, and the potential for an American clean energy economy that creates new jobs while securing a safer future for our planet and our families. Speakers included Oil Change International founder Steve Kretzmann, who discussed the dirty and dangerous Keystone XL pipeline, and Lindsey Hajduk, an Anchorage-based Sierra Club organizer fighting to protect America’s Arctic. Here’s what she had to say today:

Hi my name is Lindsey Hajduk and I’m the Sierra Club’s Associate Regional Representative from Anchorage, Alaska.  I have the pleasure of working with Alaskans throughout the state, and also with Americans all across the country that care about protecting the Arctic. 

And I’m happy to say that just last week we shared a great sense of relief to hear that ConocoPhillips will not pursue oil exploration in the Arctic Ocean next year.  We’re relieved, but that’s not enough.  Alaskans don’t want to go through another summer like we had with Shell Oil last year.  We were lucky that Shell’s drill rig, the Kulluk, grounding was the only major disaster in Alaska, but that proved you can’t drill safely in the Arctic.

The Arctic is a fragile environment on the front lines of climate change.  2012 had the lowest sea ice cover on record.  When most people think about ice they think about it crushed in their soda, but the Arctic sea ice is much more than that.  It is its own ecosystem thriving with Arctic cod, seals, walrus, polar bears, and more.  However, it’s safe to say that in the last twenty years half of the Arctic ice cap has melted.  If we think about losing half of the Amazon rainforest there would be alarm all over the world.  We need to be alarmed about the loss in Arctic sea ice. 

The effects of climate change are already having profound impacts on Alaskan’s everyday lives.  Permafrost is melting and shifting building foundations and roads.  Wildlife migration patterns are changing, which can mean hunters must travel further and take longer to feed their families.   

Unless you look out onto the land and ocean with an Inupiat elder you may not realize what is at stake, but it is their livelihoods.  You would see the lichen the caribou thrive off of, the bear scat that is a sign of what’s to come or has already been, or the spray from a bowhead whale announcing its arrival.  There is a delicate balance keeping Alaska Native communities strong, and already we may be tipping the scale.

The Arctic is changing twice as fast as the rest of the country, and its specialized wildlife are struggling to keep up. This, in addition to burning more fossil fuels drilled in the Arctic would be a double-whammy that we just cannot afford.  

President Obama has to prove his commitment to fight climate change by keeping as much as 15.8 billion tons of CO2 in the ground.  That’s how much greenhouse gases we’re talking about.  If we keep that oil under the Arctic Ocean, we’d be keeping the equivalent of 13 year’s worth of US cars and light trucks off the road.  And, we’d also be saving ourselves from disastrous drilling operations too.

Just a few months ago Alaskans and the world watched Shell Oil’s rollercoaster 2012 program.  The list of Shell’s failed track record is extensive, including losing control of its ship at harbor, damage to its oil spill containment dome, violating the clean air act, illegal discharges, its rig ran aground, and both drill rigs are under criminal investigation.  It was a whirlwind of problems Shell still tries to gloss over, but Shell took all the risks and left all the consequences on the shoulders of Alaskans and the federal government.

Rather than opening the Arctic for more drilling, the Obama administration should cancel offshore leases, buy them back, and put the areas off-limits to oil and gas exploration.  It’s not as crazy as it sounds.

Drilling in the Arctic Ocean is a bad idea, and I’m not the only one saying it.  The investment company Lloyd’s of London, the bank WestLB, the British Parliamentary Committee, and even the oil company Total SA have all stated the risks of drilling in the Arctic Ocean are too great and they will not support offshore drilling operations.  Now, President Obama should do the same.

But that’s not all.  We need to be sure to protect special areas throughout the Arctic landscape.  Politics are pushing to drill where no companies have drilled before, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.  We have been disappointed in Senator Lisa Murkowski, my senator, for introducing bills to open the Arctic Refuge for oil drilling.  This is the only 5% of our Arctic coastline currently not open for oil and gas, and critical for a caribou herd that communities depend on in Alaska and Canada.  We need common sense energy policies to reign, not politics.

Congress needs to lead the way for renewable energy policies that give us the energy independence we need, not put Americans at more risk from climate change. President Obama needs to make protecting America’s Arctic the cornerstone of his climate legacy beginning with declaring the Arctic Ocean and coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge off-limits to dangerous drilling.

Thank you.


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