Lawmakers disappointed for Newtok

The western Alaska village of Newtok recently requested a federal disaster declaration to mitigate the impacts of coastal erosion and thawing permafrost which have already led to the loss of the village’s barge landing, sewage lagoon, and landfill. The community is expected to lose its drinking water source in a matter of months, and the airport and school within approximately three years. Newtok needs help, and many are pressing for relocation. The President has said “No.”

“We are sorely disappointed in the refusal to declare a disaster in Newtok,” said Rep. Fansler. “Our office will continue to support Newtok’s relocation efforts, and will work with each of our villages and communities threatened by the ongoing effects of erosion and climate change.”

A spokesman for FEMA’s Region 10 office said the Stafford Act, which is the law that covers federal disaster relief, includes requirements that Newtok’s request did not fulfill. This is the first test of Federal disaster policies and how they will be applied to the impacts of climate change. At least 11 villages in Alaska have been identified as threatened by the same effects Newtok is dealing with.

“The President’s decision to hide behind vagueness in the Stafford Act sets a poor precedent for other communities that are facing the same issues as Newtok,” said Rep. Fansler. “The residents of Newtok are pleading for help and I believe they deserve it. The decision to reject the disaster declaration request shows a lack of empathy for their situation. I am hopeful this decision can be reversed under the incoming administration.”

“I was shocked to learn that, in one of the final acts of his administration, the outgoing President has denied Newtok a disaster declaration,” said Rep. Dean Westlake (D-Kotzebue), Chair of the House Special Committee on Arctic Policy, Economic Development and Tourism. “For an administration that has placed climate change at the top of its agenda, I am disheartened to see their effort solely geared toward mitigation with very little action on adaptation.”

The decision to reject the disaster declaration for Newtok seems in conflict with the President’s policy emphasis on addressing the impacts of climate change. Newtok has confirmed plans to appeal the decision to the incoming President.

“Mitigation efforts by the current administration have begun to hold Alaskans hostage,” said Rep. Westlake. “They are holding our resources hostage and now our people as well. The President mentioned climate change refugees in a recent farewell address, but here we are—these are real Alaskans that are on the verge of becoming some of the world’s first climate change refugees—and the President has abandoned them.”

For more information, please contact Alaska House Majority Coalition Press Secretary Mike Mason at (907) 444-0889.