Group wants more citizens monitoring trans-Alaska oil pipeline

Environmentalists, fishermen and others in the Copper River region are spearheading a new effort to boost citizen monitoring of the trans-Alaska oil pipeline.

For now, it's hard to tell if their work will pay off. But recently, they've made some headway: A leader within the group, Cordova-based Copper River Watershed Project, received a grant from the federal government's pipeline oversight agency to develop a plan to improve citizen monitoring of the 800-mile line.

For years, environmentalists and some rural communities have argued the trans-Alaska oil pipeline, built more than 30 years ago, deserves the same level of citizen watchdogging as oil shipping in Prince William Sound and Cook Inlet. Congress created industry-funded, citizen-led oversight groups to monitor risks in the Sound and the Inlet after the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill.

The Cordova nonprofit, called the Copper River Watershed Project, is one of several organizations along the pipeline route that want Congress to create a citizen advisory council for the pipeline. But in the past decade, that idea has repeatedly failed to get traction: Federal regulators, the pipeline operator and Alaska's congressional delegation have either rejected the idea or declined to champion it.

One reason creating a citizen council for the trans-Alaska line hasn't been a political priority is that the pipeline hasn't had a catastrophe like the Exxon Valdez spill, observers say.

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