The head of NOAA, Dr. Jane Lubchenco, is in town. She’s one of President Barack Obama's top environmental scientists and has the influence in Washington D.C. to affect major decisions involving Alaska’s resources.
Lubchenco is covering a lot of ground on this latest visit. Oil companies, fishermen, and conservation groups have all been trying to get a valuable few minutes with her.
Part of her focus, Wednesday, was on Cook Inlet -- specifically beluga whales, which NOAA is protecting under a critical habitat designation.
Industry representatives told Lubchenco and Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) that they did not think they should be unfairly punished with permitting delays or denials, when they say it's not entirely clear what's caused a decline in the beluga population.
“We're not just pulling hypotheticals out of the air when we're doing a critical habitat designation. We use the best available information we have about what's likely to have an impact,” Lubchenco said in response.
Later, in a show of collaboration, Lubchenco, along with managers from Shell, ConocoPhillips, and Statoil signed an agreement to share scientific data in the arctic.
They say it’s a way to smooth relations and gain a better understanding of what's happening up there with climate change.
“We believe this collaborative effort will help make informed decisions regarding resource extractions in the arctic based on solid science,” said David Brown, a ConocoPhillips land manager.
Lubchenco later flew down to Homer to meet with fishermen and talk about halibut, a contentious issue these days.
NOAA is taking public comments on a new federal regulation for Southcentral and some charter operators are worried it'll hurt business.
“I’m coming into this with a very open mind. I need to hear the range of perspectives,” she said before the visit.
Lubchenco will be in Fairbanks, Thursday, cutting the ribbon on a new weather satellite facility.