Conservation groups are cheering the introduction on Monday of a measure to stop fossil fuel extraction in a section of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).
"This bill calls a halt to the administration's headlong rush to sell off this special wilderness to corporate polluters," said John Bowman, senior director for federal affairs at the Natural Resources Defense Council. "And it preserves the fundamental human rights of the Gwich'in people whom these lands have sustained for thousands of years, and who—among two-thirds of all Americans—oppose drilling in the Arctic Refuge."
The legislation is a renewed effort by Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), and would repeal a provision included in the GOP's 2017 tax bill (pdf). Denounced as "a Big Oil polar payout," the provision opens the refuge's coastal plain to oil and gas exploration and drilling.
"I have seen the coastal plain,” said Stan Senner, vice president for bird conservation at National Audubon Society, "and it makes no sense to drill for oil in this unique landscape. Even one season of exploration, to say nothing of full-scale development, will scar it for decades.”
The impact could be "catastrophe," said Erik DuMont, public lands campaign director for Environment America.
"Drilling in this area would likely displace the Porcupine caribou herd from their prime calving grounds, leading to a decrease in the survival rate of the calves and decimating the overall size of the herd. But that’s just the start," DuMont explained. "It would disrupt nesting grounds for dozens of species of migratory birds who flock there from every U.S. state and six continents. And, even just doing seismic testing, would likely cause irreparable harm to our iconic polar bears."
.@RepHuffman announces introduction of the Arctic Cultural and Coastal Plain Protection Act, bipartisan legislation to restore protections to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge #ProtecttheArctic pic.twitter.com/gFsV9c9Lpw— Sierra Club Live (@SierraClubLive) February 11, 2019
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According to a press statement from Sierra Club, it has 100 co-sponsors.
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge should never have been opened to oil & gas exploration. Shortsighted political deals place vulnerable ecosystems and communities in serious jeopardy—I’m proud to stand with my colleagues to fight to restore protections.— Rep. Alan Lowenthal (@RepLowenthal) February 11, 2019
Thanks @RepHuffman, @RepRaulGrijalva, @RepBrianFitz, and @RepLowenthal for introducing a bill to #ProtectTheArctic! This legislation would be a crucial step in protecting the Arctic from harmful drilling. pic.twitter.com/YZ1IvPVLC5— LCV (@LCVoters) February 11, 2019
The announcement of the new legislation comes the same day as a group of teachers and scholars detail their opposition to fossil fuel exploration and drilling in ANWR's coastal plain.
"Ever since drilling proponents sneaked an Arctic Refuge leasing provision into the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the Trump administration has been moving aggressively to rush through the required Environmental Impact Statement," the group writes in an open letter. Summing up the catastrophic impact of the proposed extraction, they note:
Fossil fuel development in the Coastal Plain would devastate an Arctic nursery of global significance. It would violate human rights, jeopardize food security, and threaten the health and safety of Indigenous communities. It would contribute to the escalating crises of climate change and biological annihilation. The Arctic Refuge is an irreplaceable ecological treasure. Its fate should not be decided on an expedited timeline that prioritizes outcome over process to benefit the oil industry and its allies.
The letter will be submitted to the Bureau of Land Management on March 13, 2019, the last day to provide for public comment on the draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Coastal Plain Oil and Gas Leasing Program.