President Barack Obama has signed an executive order blocking offshore oil and gas drilling leases off the Alaskan coast, in addition to giving Native villagers more of a say in how the federal government treats a large chunk of territory in the north of the state.
On Dec. 9, President Obama signed an executive order that mandated that the federal government give greater deference to local Alaskan tribes along the state's coast, designating 112,300 square miles of waters that stretch offshore of Nome to St. Lawrence Island as a Northern Bering Sea Climate Resilience Area.
The White House issued a statement adding that a task force will be assigned to the new resilience area to ensure "a locally tailored collection of protections related to oil and gas, shipping and fishing."
The executive order also forbids future oil and gas leases being taken out on 40,300 square miles of the Norton Basin, according to CBS News.
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The president's order arrived in response to requests from the nonprofit Kawerak Inc. requesting that local Native villagers along the Alaskan west coast receive more leverage in how their natural resources are used.
The resilience area is home to one of the largest focal points of marine mammal migration in the globe, with a high concentration of whales, walruses, seals and birds passing through the waters annually.
Now local villagers will have a greater say on commercial fishing expansion and any other forms of commerce that could endanger local animal life.
"It is the Native elders' vision that the northern Bering Sea and the resources that our people rely on be protected because they are the foundation of our culture and way of life," said Yupik elder Harry Lincoln of the Tununak tribe.
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While Obama's executive order was welcomed by Alaskan tribes, Republican Alaska Gov. Bill Walker and the GOP-controlled state legislature have expressed frustration with the blocking of future offshore drilling opportunities.
"The State of Alaska is concerned about any further erosion of our ability to support much needed resource development at a time when the state is grappling with declining oil prices and production," said Gov. Walker and Republican Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott of Alaska in a joint statement.
Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan as well as Republican Rep. Don Young of Alaska issued Obama a letter asserting that the "overwhelming majority of the Alaskan people ... oppose the withdrawal of acreage in these areas."