Trump ramps up reckless assault on the Arctic Refuge

Washington, D.C. December 21, 2018 – On the eve of the one-year anniversary of the tax act that opened the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling, The Bureau of Land Management released its draft environmental impact statement (EIS) in preparation for an oil and gas lease sale in 2019 within the ecologically sensitive coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, America’s premier wilderness refuge. This is the latest move by the Trump administration in a rushed process to allow drilling in one of the nation’s most remote and iconic landscapes.

Earlier this year, the Trump administration announced it would develop a leasing EIS with the aim of finalizing it in early 2019, and they have recklessly charged ahead with their arbitrary and expedited timeline. Analyzing scientific data, examining the true negative impacts drilling would have on the landscape and wildlife, and engaging in meaningful dialogue with local communities and stakeholders cannot be rushed. This hurried process is incompatible with protecting the subsistence needs of the Gwich’in people who, for thousands of years, have depended on the Porcupine Caribou that migrate through the Refuge to calve in the Coastal Plain. To the Gwich’in, the Coastal Plain of the Refuge is known as “Iizhik Gwats’an Gwandaii Goodlit,” The Sacred Place Where Life Begins. Drilling the Coastal Plain would forever scar the landscape and eviscerate the way of life for the Gwich’in.

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At 19.3 million acres, the Refuge is an amazing, wild landscape home to some of the most diverse and stunning populations of wildlife in the Arctic–including polar and grizzly bears, wolves, and the Porcupine Caribou Herd. Nestled between the foothills of the Brooks Range and the icy waters of the Arctic Ocean, the Arctic Refuge’s coastal plain contains the most important land denning habitat for polar bears across America’s Arctic coast. Birds from all fifty states migrate to the Refuge, including the Snowy Owl and Semipalmated Sandpiper.

An overwhelming majority of Americans support protections for the Arctic Refuge. Yet in 2017, after decades of bipartisan support for the Refuge, Senate Republicans forced a provision into their tax bill to mandate an oil and gas leasing program in the Refuge without meaningful debate. Publicly, the administration promised a fair and robust review process. In reality, it has placed arbitrary deadlines and limitations on the environmental review every step of the way. In the time since the tax bill became law, the Interior Department has pushed forward with an aggressive timeline for Arctic Refuge drilling that reflects the Trump administration’s eagerness to sell off our public lands to the highest bidder and allow the coastal plain of this premier wildlife refuge to be turned over to oil companies.

STATEMENTS FROM NATIVE AND CONSERVATION ORGANIZATIONS:

“The Gwich’in nation opposes any development in the calving grounds of the Porcupine Caribou Herd,”said Bernadette Demientieff, executive director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee. “The rush and fast pace that they are moving in only proves that they have no intention of addressing our concerns. Ninety-five percent of the Arctic is opened to oil and gas. Leave the remaining five percent alone. Our animals need somewhere clean and healthy to go. That’s what the coastal plain provides: A refuge for our animals. The Gwich’in have a cultural and spiritual connection to the porcupine caribou herd. Drilling in the arctic refuge is a direct attack on our way of life.”

“Of all of the Trump administration’s conservation rollbacks, the drive to sell off one of America’s wildest places for dirty, high-risk oil-drilling ranks among the worst,” said Jamie Williams, president of The Wilderness Society. “Americans have no desire to drill the Arctic Refuge, and this action is pure pandering to special interests in the oil lobby. Americans want to balance our energy needs with conservation of some places that are simply too wild to drill. Millions of acres in Alaska have already been opened for drilling under the Trump administration, and some places should remain untouched for future generations. The process laid out in the plan is rushed and reckless, defying good science and meaningful dialogue with stakeholders. A mere 52-day review for a plan that purports to drill for oil in the crown jewel of our wildlife refuge system shows the administration isn’t at all serious about avoiding permanent damage to this untouched landscape. We urge Congress to act early next year to withdraw the 2017 tax bill rider that Americans never asked for and do not support.” “The Arctic Refuge is an ecosystem that is becoming more – not less – vital for birds and wildlife as development and a changing climate chip away at their habitat,” said Sarah Greenberger, senior vice president of conservation policy for the National Audubon Society. “With most of America’s Arctic coastline already open for oil and gas development, it’s inexplicable that we are considering destroying one of our last wild places. Every American is connected to this piece of our national heritage, by virtue of the birds that fly through our backyards to one of our most prolific bird nurseries. Maybe that’s why two thirds of Americans representing both major political parties oppose drilling in the Refuge.”

“Mining oil and gas from the Arctic Refuge makes no sense in climate terms,” said Fairbanks Climate Action Coalition council member and ecologist Dr. Julianne Warren. “It would potentially add more carbon to the atmosphere and oceans in two intersecting ways, which would be incompatible with a safely habitable ecosphere. First, burning any new below-ground reserves would discharge more ancient stores of carbon. Second, damaging one of the healthiest, intact lifescapes remaining on Earth would emit the carbon it is built from. Not only is protecting the ecological integrity of the Refuge critical, restoring other already destroyed ecosystems world-wide is urgently needed to sequester more atmospheric carbon. Ultimately, I believe that defending life and the interpenetrating local and global conditions of life–including long interdependent Alaska Native Peoples–is a primary, sacred duty. This duty means no more drilling anywhere, especially in the Arctic Refuge. It means just transition from climate irresponsible to healthy energy economies.”

“Despite promising a robust, scientifically-sound review process, the administration is racing to authorize drilling,” said Patrick Lavin, Alaska senior representative for Defenders of Wildlife. “By placing arbitrary deadlines and limitations on the environmental review, the administration is making clear that it is working for Big Oil, not the wildlife and people who rely on the coastal plain for survival. There is no need to industrialize this treasured landscape, and no excuse for short-circuiting the review process.

“There is no way there will ever be enough oil to value the destruction of a People and a pristine ecosystem as productive and precious as the Arctic Refuge coastal plain,” said Carol Hoover, executive director of the Eyak Preservation Council. “Don’t deny this – oil exploration on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge will destroy a Native People and their human rights. Destruction of habitat for traditional food sources essentially amounts to cultural genocide. That is no way for the American people, much less Alaska, to go forward.”

“Nothing could be more reckless than drilling for oil in a wildlife refuge,” said Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Once we industrialize our last great Alaskan wilderness areas, there’s no going back. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is where we must make a stand against Trump’s ignorance and greed. Here is where we protect our environment or accept climate chaos and the extinction crisis.”

ALASKA WILDERNESS LEAGUE * CANADIAN PARKS AND WILDERNESS SOCIETY YUKON * CENTER FOR BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY * DEFENDERS OF WILDLIFE * EARTHJUSTICE * ENVIRONMENT AMERICA * EYAK PRESERVATION COUNCIL * FAIRBANKS CLIMATE ACTION COALITION * GWICH’IN STEERING COMMITTEE * LEAGUE OF CONSERVATION VOTERS * NATIONAL AUDUBON SOCIETY * NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE ASSOCIATION * NATURAL RESOURCES DEFENSE COUNCIL * NORTHERN ALASKA ENVIRONMENTAL CENTER * SIERRA CLUB * STAND.EARTH *THE WILDERNESS SOCIETY * TRUSTEES FOR ALASKA *