Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

 Caribou graze on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

  Caribou graze on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, with the Brooks Range as a backdrop. (Photo: USFWS)

'We Will Not Give Up,' Say Indigenous Groups, as Trump Admin Gets Closer to Fossil Fuel Pillage of Arctic Refuge

Final Environmental Impact Statement for drilling in coastal plain of refuge came on heels of House vote to block drilling in Alaska area

Andrea Germanos

Indigenous leaders vowed Thursday to protect their Alaskan lands from fossil fuel exploitation after the Trump administration moved closer to allowing drilling along the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge—a move the House just tried to block.

"The Gwich'in are protectors," said Bernadette Demientieff, executive director of the Gwich'in Steering Committee, "and we will not give up."

The pledge from the Gwich'in—who call the coastal plain "the sacred place where life begins"—came in response to the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for oil and gas leasing, which was released Thursday by the Bureau of Land Management.

The announcement, said Interior Secretary David Bernhardt in a press statement, represents "a big step to carry out the clear mandate we received from Congress to develop and implement a leasing program for the coastal plain," referring to Sen. Lisa Murkowski's (R-Alaska) provision in the "tax scam" of 2017 requiring the sales for drilling rights in the area. Bernhardt is a former fossil fuel lobbyist.

In the new analysis, the administration, as The Washington Post reported, chose "the most aggressive development option for an area long closed to drilling."

"The FEIS unlawfully opens the entire coastal plain to leasing," wrote NRDC staff attorney Garett Rose. "It fails to even consider an approach that minimizes damage to the refuge's unique environment, violating our bedrock environmental review law."

But that choice came to "no one's surprise," according to Adam Kolton, executive director of Alaska Wilderness League, who said the Trump administration was "not even pretending that this is about restraint or meaningful protection."

"With an eye on developing the entirety of the fragile coastal plain," Kolton continued, "the administration has been riding roughshod over science, silencing dissent, and shutting out entire Indigenous communities."

Demientieff, whose community has highlighted the potential catastrophe the exploitation could unleash on the calving and nursery grounds for the Porcupine caribou herd, also criticized the FEIS for disrespecting "the Gwich'in Nation and all people in the Arctic and world who suffer the impacts of climate change and nonstop exploitation, while formally scratching the backs of those who seek to desecrate land and dishonor human rights to fill their pockets."

The FEIS, as The Hill noted, is "one of the final steps before leases can be sold," as bidding may begin after 30 days. 

The timing of the release of the environmental impact statement also raised the eyebrows of Kolton, who noted that it came "literally hours" after the Democratic-controlled House voted 225-193 to block the mandate for the ANWR drilling.

Passage of that bill was welcomed by its author, by Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), who said the measure "reflects a very simple proposition: there are some places too wild, too important, too unique to be spoiled by oil and gas development."

Huffman praised lawmakers voting in favor of the measure for "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."

The vote was also celebrated by Indigenous and environmental groups.

Alex Taurel, head of League of Conservation Voters' Conservation Program, called the vote "a resounding victory for the Gwich'in people, their sacred traditions, and the invaluable wildlife of the majestic Arctic National Wildlife Refuge."

"The majority of people in the U.S. oppose oil and gas drilling in the Arctic Refuge—we will continue to stand up against special interest big polluters as long as it takes," said Taurel, urging the Senate to follow suit.

Democartic senators including Ed Markey (Mass.) and Michael Bennet (Colo.) took to social media this week to ramp support for their legislation to block the ANWR drilling—though its fate is likely doomed in the Republican-controlled chamber.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

'Political Malpractice': House Democrats' Bill Wouldn't Add Dental to Medicare Until 2028

"I don't want to see it drawn out to as far as the House has proposed," Sen. Bernie Sanders said during a recent press call.

Jake Johnson ·


'How Many More Deaths Must It Take?' Barbados Leader Rips Rich Nations in Fierce UN Speech

"How many more variants of Covid-19 must arrive, how many more, before a worldwide plan for vaccinations will be implemented?"

Jake Johnson ·


To Avert Debt Ceiling Calamity, Democrats Urged to Finally Kill the Filibuster

"The solution is to blow up the filibuster at least for debt limit votes, just as Mitch blew it up to pack the Supreme Court for his big donors."

Jake Johnson ·


Biden Decries 'Outrageous' Treatment of Haitians at Border—But Keeps Deporting Them

"I'm glad to see President Biden speak out about the mistreatment of Haitian asylum-seekers. But his administration's use of Title 42 to deny them the right to make an asylum claim is a much bigger issue."

Jessica Corbett ·


Global Peace Activists Warn of Dangers of US-Led Anti-China Pacts

"No to military alliances and preparation for catastrophic wars," anti-war campaigners from over a dozen nations write in a letter decrying the new AUKUS agreement. "Yes to peace, disarmament, justice, and the climate."

Brett Wilkins ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo