Coordinating Safe and Responsible Energy Development in Alaska

Today President Obama, formalizing one of several steps he announced this spring to continue to increase safe and responsible domestic oil and gas production, announced the formation of a new, high-level interagency working group to coordinate on energy development in Alaska.  Officially created through an Executive Order, President Obama established the Interagency Working Group on Coordination of Domestic Energy Development and Permitting in Alaska.  As Deputy Secretary of the Interior, I am honored to lead this cross-agency team.

The formation of this group is only the most recent step the President has taken to support the increased development our nation’s important resources, while ensuring that we do so safely and responsibly, including being guided by the important lessons learned by the largest oil spill in our nation’s history. The foundation for this effort is laid out in the President’s Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future , which charts a path to build a 21st century clean energy economy over the long term  and dramatically cut our oil imports by 2025, through the responsible development of oil and gas at home, while at the same time facilitating the development of cleaner, alternative fuels and increasing efficiency

A key part of safe and responsible development of our oil and gas resources is recognizing that different environments and communities require different approaches and technologies.  Rather than taking a “one-size-fits-all” approach, the Blueprint rightly calls for region-specific strategies. This is particularly true when it comes to Alaska, whose natural resources offer significant promise for energy development, while posing challenges associated with the conditions of Arctic environments.  Its heritage is rich and diverse, and development must take into account the cultural, economic, and subsistence needs of different communities.

While agencies across the Federal government have various responsibilities to protect these resources as part of safe and responsible development in Alaska, it’s important that we speak with one voice.  Congressional leaders agree, and on both sides of the aisle they have called for coordination on Alaska energy development and permitting. 

That’s where the Working Group comes in.  I’ll chair the group, which will include senior officials from the Departments of Defense, Commerce, Agriculture, Energy, Homeland Security, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Office of the Federal Coordinator for Alaska Natural Gas Transportation Projects.  These officials will be joined by officials from across the Executive Office of the President.  Together, this group will play a number of important coordinating functions:

  • We’ll simplify decision-making processes by making sure that we’re doing our part to collaborate as we evaluate permits and conduct rigorous environmental reviews.  This means talking about schedules and progress; sharing application project information, scientific and environmental data, and cultural and traditional knowledge; and making sure that our decisions are based on the best information available.
     
  • By bringing all agencies and their various responsibilities together, we will ensure that decisions are made with every step and consideration of this important process in mind, including oil spill prevention, preparedness and response, and the development of necessary infrastructure to adequately support energy development in Alaska.
     
  • And we’ll also facilitate a coordinated approach to collaboration with our many partners outside of the Federal government – be it other governments, tribal organizations, industry, or stakeholders in the non-profit/NGO community – as we work through energy development and permitting issues in Alaska.  In fact, we’ll designate primary points of contact to coordinate with the State of Alaska, and with local communities, governments, tribes, co-management organizations, and similar Alaska Native organizations.  This means that we’ll be working closely with other governments including the State of Alaska and in the Alaska North Slope Borough as they implement their own permitting authorities. 

We look forward to continuing our work with partners inside and outside of the Federal government on this important issue, and hope that the formation of this new group will help reinforce the importance of collaboration and consultation across different levels of government.  

Read the Executive Order HERE: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2011/07/12/executive-order-interagency-working-group-coordination-domestic-energy-d

David J. Hayes is the Deputy Secretary of the Department of the Interior
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