Enraging conservation and indigenous advocates across the nation, the Trump administration on Thursday plowed ahead with its widely denounced plans to enable drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska, releasing a draft environmental impact statement for granting oil and natural gas leases in the refuge's 1.6 million-acre coastal plain.
"Nothing could be more reckless than drilling for oil in a wildlife refuge. Once we industrialize our last great Alaskan wilderness areas, there's no going back."
—Kieran Suckling, CBD
"Nothing could be more reckless than drilling for oil in a wildlife refuge," declared Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) executive director Kieran Suckling, responding to the release. "Once we industrialize our last great Alaskan wilderness areas, there's no going back."
"This is a land grab, pure and simple, and the individuals responsible care little about impacts to wildlife or the damage they would be inflicting on Alaska Native people whose subsistence depends on the Arctic Refuge," Adam Kolton, executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League, told the Anchorage Daily News.
While Democrats as well as environmental and indigenous leaders have fought against drilling in the area for decades, many of Alaska's Republican politicians—including Gov. Mike Dunleavy and Sen. Lisa Murkowski—are backing the administration's efforts.
Since Republicans used last year's GOP tax scam to expose ANWR to fossil fuel exploration, the Interior Department under President Donald Trump has sought to expedite the grant-issuing process. The new impact statement, prepared by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), features four potential proposals for which parts of ANWR could be opened up to drilling—and kicks off a 45-day public comment period, after which BLM is set to select one of the plans.
"If the process survives expected court challenges by environmental and conservation groups, as well as efforts by the incoming Democratic majority in the House of Representatives to slow it down," the New York Times reported, "lease sales for rights to drill for oil and gas could be held before the end of 2019."
The Wilderness Society released its own report on Thursday, asserting that drilling in the region "wouldn't just be terrible for the environment, but it also has serious financial shortcomings." Suggesting that GOP efforts to turn over ANWR to the fossil fuel industry are really about scoring political points, it claims, "When all factors are considered, revenue from drilling would likely bring in a mere fraction of what politicians have promised, and it's simply not worth the cost."
As Chase Huntley, the group's senior director for climate and energy programs, summarized to the Daily News, "The Trump administration is using fake economics and bogus data to mislead Americans as part of its irresponsible rush to turn over our public lands to oil companies for development."
"The administration's Arctic Refuge leasing plan ignores science, turns a deaf ear to public opinion, and attempts to skirt the law and paper over a disastrous decision that has already been made."
—Jamie Rappaport Clark, Defenders of Wildlife
Defenders of Wildlife president and CEO Jamie Rappaport Clark—a former director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS)—concurred, charging that "the administration's Arctic Refuge leasing plan ignores science, turns a deaf ear to public opinion, and attempts to skirt the law and paper over a disastrous decision that has already been made."
Clark added that the administration appears hellbent on selling off the refuge to Big Oil, "regardless of the cost to imperiled polar bears, the Porcupine caribou herd, hundreds of migratory birds, and the Gwich'in people, who have depended on the coastal plain for millennia."
As Bernadette Demientieff, executive director of the Gwich'in Steering Committee, told the Times, "This administration has absolutely no regard to the harm this development will inflict on my people, the impact it will have on wildlife and the environment, and definitely not what it will mean for our climate."
Critics vowed continue fighting in court against—in the words of Clark—"reckless efforts to turn this iconic landscape into an industrial oil field."
"The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is where we must make a stand against Trump's ignorance and greed," concluded CBD's Suckling. "Here is where we protect our environment or accept climate chaos and the extinction crisis."