House Approves Rep. Huffman’s Bill to Block Oil and Gas Drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

Washington, D.C. Sept. 12, 2019 – By a bipartisan margin of 225-193, the House of Representatives approved the Arctic Cultural and Coastal Plain Protection Act, a bill authored by Rep. Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) that repeals a controversial provision tucked into the 2017 Trump tax law that mandated oil and gas leasing and production in the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

“The Arctic Cultural and Coastal Plain Protection Act reflects a very simple proposition: there are some places too wild, too important, too unique to be spoiled by oil and gas development,” said Rep. Huffman. “The Arctic Refuge’s Coastal Plain is one of those special places. Today the House voted to repeal the Trump tax law’s mandate to drill in the Arctic Refuge, protecting not just the beating biological heart of the largest wildlife refuge in the United States, but the indigenous people who depend on this sacred, natural landscape.”

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The vote on Huffman’s legislation to protect the Arctic Refuge comes at a critical time: the Arctic is warming at a rate twice as fast as the rest of the planet, yet the Trump administration has been rushing the review process to issue oil and gas leases in the Arctic Refuge’s fragile Coastal Plain.

This rushed review reflects the direction of the Secretary of the Interior, David Bernhardt, a former oil industry lawyer and lobbyist who once sued the Interior Department to allow oil drilling studies in the Arctic Refuge. Bernhardt’s deputy overseeing that review process, Assistant Secretary Joe Balash, left the Trump administration just last week to take a new job with an oil exploration company with interests in the Arctic.

The Chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ), applauded today’s vote on the bill, which followed votes in the House yesterday to protect the Atlantic, Pacific, and the Florida Gulf Coasts from the Trump administration’s oil and gas drilling plans.

“If we’re going to protect our environment and combat climate change with the seriousness it demands, we need a better way of doing things,” said Grijalva. “Too many Republicans and the fossil fuel industry treat oil drilling as the only conceivable source of jobs in this country, and that’s just not a serious position. We need massive investments in clean, renewable energy and a meaningful economic transition away from dependence on fossil fuels. Anything less is a betrayal of the obligation we owe to the people we represent and the young Americans looking to us for leadership.”

The Coastal Plain is the biological heart of the Arctic Refuge, providing essential habitat for imperiled polar bears, musk oxen, and hundreds of species of migratory birds that arrive from all fifty states and six continents. It is the calving ground for the Porcupine Caribou Herd, which migrates internationally hundreds of miles each year in one of North America’s greatest natural spectacles. The indigenous Gwich’in people have relied on the caribou for millennia and consider the Coastal Plain “the sacred place where life begins” because of its importance to the caribou.

Huffman led a congressional letter to the Interior Department in 2018 along with 100 members of Congress in opposition to the Arctic Refuge drilling plan. In prior sessions of Congress, Huffman authored legislation to designate the 1.5 million acre Costal Plain as wilderness, and offered an amendment on the House floor in 2016 that represented the first time Congress had ever voted on the Arctic wilderness proposal.

The Arctic Cultural and Coastal Plain Protection Act, H.R. 1146, has 182 bipartisan cosponsors. Full text of the legislation as considered in the House today can be found here.