Thank you for your interest in learning more about our public wild lands in Alaska. Stop by often to find the latest updates and information on all of the special places we work to protect outlined here. You can also find more information about the Places We Protect here.
ARCTIC NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE
The Center for America Progress has released an in-depth analysis that finds the Trump administration's attacks on the Arctic Refuge and Tongass National Forest could release almost 5 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide — nearly as much pollution as all the world's cars emit in one year. These attacks on protected areas by the Trump administration will exacerbate the climate crisis and should not move forward.
Arctic Refuge drilling advancements and how you can help
The Trump administration finalized its environmental review process with a Record of Decision (ROD) for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge on Monday August 17. This sets the stage for a potential oil and gas lease sale – something they could try and execute on by the end of the year.
This news is not a shocker. We have been preparing for some time for this, recognizing that the administration has been racing against a political clock to try and auction off the Arctic Refuge before a potential change comes in November. But that doesn’t diminish in any way the anger we feel at how any politician could make a judgement like this, in the middle of a pandemic, with oil markets cratering, the need to confront climate change so urgent and the economic rationale for drilling evaporating. Big picture one thing remains absolute: our unwavering belief that we can and will ensure that the Arctic Refuge remains free of industrialization and development.
What’s in the Record of Decision?
- The administration adopted the most destructive drilling alternative possible and will attempt to lease the entire 1.5-million-acre coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge to the oil industry.
- Their findings acknowledge that there will be severe impacts on natural and cultural resources, indicating that drilling in the Arctic Refuge “could significantly restrict subsistence uses” but that “the significant restriction of subsistence uses is necessary.”
- The ROD concludes a process that has completely overlooked or ignored obvious impacts to ecosystem and wildlife including failing to estimate how many polar bears will be killed or harmed, understating the loss of caribou habitat; and underestimating climate change impacts, the threat of oil spills, air pollution, the lack of available freshwater resources for oil activity such as ice road construction and many, many others.
- The stipulations outlined in the Record of Decision are weak and do not begin to mitigate the impacts of development. There’s lots of window dressing about “season closures” and “no surface occupancy area” but if you look closely you find that these are all subject to potential waivers, exceptions and modifications that could render them meaningless.
- Like the Final EIS the ROD continues to blatantly ignore or understate every type of impact that drilling will have on the Arctic Refuge. Instead, the ROD kicks any critical analyses down the road, citing “site specific” analyses and “limitations” that could be included in future leases and permits – even acknowledging a high level of uncertainty about how drilling would proceed in a harsh and remote environment.
- Bottom line: the ROD tries to paper over the massive deficiencies in the final EIS that government agencies, scientists and Alaska Native communities have identified. The ROD, however, cannot effectively defend the indefensible: it does not change the reality that drilling the Arctic Refuge will have catastrophic impacts on subsistence resources, wildlife, air quality, water and the climate. As a result, the courts or a new presidential administration will have ample opportunity to overturn this reckless and flawed decision.
What steps can we take to stop the Trump administration?
The most important next step is litigation and we have joined a suit led by the Gwich'in Nation to challenge this decision. There are major deficiencies in the EIS and, in our view, gaping failures to comply with environmental laws including what Congress stipulated in the Tax Act, the longstanding purposes of the Arctic Refuge and much more. In short, we think we have a strong case. But this could take some time to play out and there are many possible scenarios.
How will the elections impact the Arctic Refuge leasing scheme?
If President Trump wins re-election, it’s reasonable to imagine his administration would continue to aggressively pursue oil leasing. Legal action could stymie this. So too could oil market conditions. In short, we would have many ways to continue to gum up the works.
Vice President Biden has included Arctic Refuge protections as part of his climate plan, the DNC platform and in his unity plan with Senator Sanders (D-VT). Were he to become President our focus would be on pressuring him to use all the executive tools at his disposal to halt the leasing program and protect the Arctic Refuge. And depending on the makeup of the new Congress we will also be working to restore legislative protections for the coastal plain.
What can we do right now to engage in the fight and protect the Arctic Refuge?
Spread the word. This is a key moment to make sure we engage all who care. Please share this post on Twitter or on Facebook. You can also share this video from our collaborative Arctic Refuge Defense Campaign that put the squeeze on the oil companies.
Goldman Sachs was the first U.S. bank to join more than a dozen major international banks that have adopted policies against financing projects in the Arctic Refuge. Now amazingly since December 2019 JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, CitiBank, and Morgan Stanley have also rejected funding Arctic drilling!
We will now keep up the pressure on the ONE remaining: Bank of America.
Urge Bank of America to not to finance any Arctic Refuge leasing activity. You can take action here.
TONGASS NATIONAL FOREST
The Trump administration is seeking to open 9.3 million acres of protected Tongass land to road-building and clear-cut logging.
So much hard work was done over the course of the public comment period on the proposed Alaska specific Roadless Rule exemption draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)—400,000 individual comments were submitted; 13 tribes and city governments in SE Alaska, 254 commercial fisherman in SE Alaska, more than 100 elected officials, nearly 200 businesses in Alaska and the lower-48, and 234 scientists told the U.S. Forest Service that they oppose removing Roadless Rule protections. Altogether 96% of all of the comments received were in support of keeping Roadless Rule protections. Alaska Native communities, in particular, felt the 2001 Roadless Rule supported their way of life, cultural practices, subsistence harvest opportunities, economic interests, and honored their history as having occupied Southeast Alaska for time immemorial. A final EIS is expected to be released this fall, and until then, we will continue to build support for the Roadless Area Conservation Act in both the House and Senate.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Arctic sea ice coverage was the smallest ever recorded for October 2019 at 32.2 percent below the 1981–2010 average. As our climate warms and with the Arctic warming at twice the rate as the rest of the globe, protecting the Arctic Ocean and keeping fossil fuel development out of it is essential.
In 2015 and 2016, President Obama issued a landmark Executive Order (EO) withdrawing 98% of the Arctic Ocean from future oil drilling. President Trump immediately tried to revoke this withdrawal with his own EO, which we challenged in the courts. Judge Sharon Gleason, a United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Alaska, vacated the Trump EO and ruled that a president does have the authority to withdraw acres from development but that a future president does not have the authority to reverse those withdrawals without congressional approval.
In 2020, the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation relinquished its 21 leases in the Beaufort Sea, leases purchased from Shell when the oil major ended its own drilling plans in the Arctic Ocean. These leases were some of the last remaining in industry hands, so with this change, only 13 leases (covering about 58,000 acres, down from a peak of more than four million) remain in America's Arctic Ocean.
NATIONAL PETROLEUM RESERVE-ALASKA
In 2019 the Bureau of Land Management started the process to create a new integrated activity plan (IAP) for the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. All action alternatives propose opening additional areas in the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area to oil and gas leasing and industrial activity, and all eliminate the Colville River Special Area. BLM should instead strengthen protections for these special areas, not undermine or erase them from the map.
The final comment period of the Integrated Activity Plan draft Environmental Impact Statement is now closed. While the League continues to build public support to keep current protections in place, we also worked with Representatives Lowenthal (D-CA), Grijalva (D-AZ) and Huffman (D-CA)—and 45 of their colleagues who sent a letter to BLM in opposition to the administration’s proposed alternatives. You can read their letter here.