Trump ramps up reckless assault on the Arctic Refuge

Hasty environmental review ignores human rights and public support for protections

Washington, D.C. - 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 announced 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.

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 in the Springtime to nest, 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.”

“There is no moral guidance from the Trump Administration,” said Matt Krogh, Extreme Oil Campaign Director of Stand.earth. “With failed leadership from the White House, people need to make corporations act responsibly. The only right thing to do is to leave the Refuge in peace, starting by making sure the environmental review fully assesses all environmental, climate, and cultural impacts.”

“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.”

“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.”

“Their rush to check the boxes of the environmental review process and sell off the Arctic Refuge to oil interests as soon as possible is further evidence of this administration’s total disregard for Indigenous rights and the value of America’s wild places," said Alli Harvey, Alaska representative for Sierra Club’s Our Wild America campaign. "When Donald Trump and Ryan Zinke look at the Arctic Refuge, they may see nothing but dollar signs, but the American people see much more than that. The Arctic Refuge is sacred to the Gwich’in Nation and an important symbol of the wild. That’s why the plan to open this place up for drilling is so unpopular with the public, and pressure is growing on oil companies and the banks that fund them not to buy what this reckless administration is selling. We will continue to stand with the Gwich’in people and fight back against this scheme to sell out America’s Refuge.”

“This administration is hell bent on drilling the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. At a time when our leaders should be focused on avoiding catastrophic climate change, they are running headlong toward it, inviting tragic consequences for the Arctic,” said Earthjustice President Abigail Dillen. “Oil and gas drilling in the coastal plain will imperil wildlife such as the threatened polar bear. It will violate the human rights of indigenous Gwich’in people who rely for their way of life on the caribou that depend on the unspoiled Arctic Refuge habitat. It will bring irreversible harm to a cherished landscape valued by people around the world. Earthjustice stands prepared to uphold bedrock environmental laws and defend this precious place from the disastrous whims of the Trump administration.”

“The Trump administration is trying to hastily push through this reckless oil and gas program, regardless of the law and impacts to wilderness and wildlife,” said Brook Brisson, senior staff attorney for Trustees for Alaska. “It defies the will of the majority of Americans who want this wild place protected. It undermines the science and agency process required to protect our lands, waters, wildlife and people. It disregards the human rights of the Gwich’in people. You can bet we will go through the BLM’s draft EIS with a fine tooth comb and stand with the Gwich’in people in fighting any oil and gas activity in the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge.”

“The Arctic Refuge was founded in part to preserve unique arctic wildlife, and the coastal plain is integral in that protection. It offers a vital birthing ground, nursery, and insect relief for the Porcupine caribou herd. Though some claim that caribou can and have co-existed with oil development on the North Slope for decades, co-existing and thriving are not the same, and the geography of the habitat the coastal plain provides makes development here especially unacceptable,” said Lisa Baraff, program director at the Northern Alaska Environmental Center. “The rush to move forward with the administration's plans has disregarded the ecological, geographical, and cultural realities of this complex place, not to mention the powerful legacy of protection it represents.”

MEDIA CONTACTS:

Corey Himrod, Alaska Wilderness League, 202-266-0426, corey@alaskawild.org
Rebecca Bowe, Earthjustice, 415-217-2093, rbowe@earthjustice.org
Carol Hoover, Eyak Preservation Council, 415-250-9472 carol@redzone.org
Gabby Brown, Sierra Club, 914-261-4626, gabby.brown@sierraclub.org
Tony Iallonardo, The Wilderness Society, 202-429-2699, tony_iallonardo@tws.org
Dawnell Smith, Trustees for Alaska, 907-433-3013, dsmith@trustees.org