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Activists work to preserve Alaska
 Print itRichard Morenus with Senator John Sununu  in Washington, D.C.
Richard Morenus with Senator John Sununu in Washington, D.C.
Two local activists recently represented New Hampshire in Washington, lobbying against drilling for oil off Alaska’s fragile coastal plain.

“We’d had a lifelong enthusiasm with the environment,” Richard Morenus said. But their current efforts began a number of years ago with the Sierra Club in Concord, where they took leadership training courses.

This was the fourth time Richard and Marjorie Morenus have been to the nation’s capital for Alaska Wilderness Week, held twice a year. The March meeting coincided with rallies to raise awareness of global warming.

“The biggest thing this year was the effort to keep oil exploration off of the coastal plain of the Alaska Wildlife reserve,” Richard Morenus said. To that end, they visited state representatives and attended workshops.

The coastal plain is the only part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge where oil drilling is not allowed, Morenus said. It’s the natives’ whaling territory, and the calving ground for caribou that migrate every year from Canada.

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) was set aside by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1960, and in 1980, Congress expanded the refuge, making most of it part of the National Wilderness Preservation System.

Because of pressure from the oil industry, Morenus said, the coastal plain wasn’t included as part of this wilderness area, and oil industry lobbyists continue to push for oil and gas drilling on the plain.

Their lobbying group included a representative of the Gwich’in Nation. See the website

The Morenuses and others were part of a grassroots lobbying group, members of which came to the capital to remind representatives of the importance of caring for one of the few relatively untouched pieces of land in the arctic.

Their opponents, oil and gas industry groups, have paid lobbyists in DC. The website belongs to Arctic Power of Anchorage, for example, and is “committed to securing congressional and presidential approval” . . . to open the Coastal Plain of ANWR to “responsible oil development.”

Interest groups they represent include the Alaska Trucking, Oil & Gas, miners and other industry associations. The site offers 10 reasons why the ANWR should be developed.

Environmentalists warn that one spill could destroy their native fishing grounds and the fragile tundra.

Morgan VanHatten, an Inupiat, says most of her people oppose oil exploration on the plain and offshore.

That’s why representatives of the Gwich’in Nation and the Inupiat (what most Americans call Eskimo) make the trip to Washington twice a year.

An example of the complexity of the debate among those who live on or near the coastal plain can be seen on the website of the Alaskan city of Kaktovik. The site bemoans the “outsiders” who come there “pushing foreign agendas” and not respecting their culture and way of life. The ANWR and oil development are not simple issues, they say.

According to the Sierra Club, “hundreds of spills involving tens of thousands of gallons of crude oil and other petroleum products occur” every year. New research from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute on Cape Cod shows an oil spill four decades ago is still affecting the marsh creatures who live there, including fiddler crabs.

Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter was speaking on the floor of the Capitol, and couldn’t meet with them when they visited, but is very supportive of their efforts, Morenus said, as is Congressman Paul Hodes.

While they were there, they visited Granite State senators’ offices and saw Sen. John Sununu, who won an award for his support of the Tongass National Forest in Alaska.

Then there is the even bigger issue of global warming, Morenus, 78, said. “This has to be addressed. It can be done, but it’s going to be difficult. The longer we wait, the more difficult it’s going to be.”

The couple moved here in 1998 from southern California, after Richard retired. “Why did we move here?” Richard asked. “For the weather.”

Richard was an engineer at Douglas Aircraft and Marjorie a singer and pianist who performed with the Roger Wagner Chorale before raising their two sons (both software engineers) and a daughter, who is a music professor at Illinois State University.

Richard, who flew small planes, taught the kids to fly using instruments, while Marjorie taught them music and piano.

Marjorie still sings, and participated in the 19th annual Messiah Sing in Mont Vernon last December.

The couple, married more than 50 years, have taken numerous adventure vacations, including a cruise around Alaska.

This trip was not on a luxury cruise liner, but on a special expedition vessel with fewer than 100 passengers and crew. Side trips to towns, glaciers and wildlife viewing areas were made in even smaller Zodiac inflatables.

One memorable vacation trip for Richard was with his daughter learning to drive dogsleds in northern Wisconsin, while Marjorie visited her brother Ray.

In their spare time, they both enjoy reading and can be seen occasionally at the Bedford Library Scrabble nights.