A coalition of environmental advocacy groups joined the Gwich'in Nation on Monday in filing a lawsuit to block the Trump administration's plan to open up the entire coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to fossil fuel lease sales.
"The Trump administration's complete and utter disregard for the human rights of the Gwich'in people is apparent as he continues the attack on the Arctic Refuge," said Jody Juneby Potts, Han Gwich'in leader in Eagle Village, Alaska, in a statement announcing the lawsuit.
"Last week's record of decision for the Coastal Plain Oil and Gas Leasing Program in what my people know as 'the Sacred Place Where Life Begins' would have devastating impacts on the Porcupine Caribou Herd and the Gwich'in way of life," Potts added, referring to the Interior Department's announcement last week.
BREAKING: Today @OurArcticRefuge launched a lawsuit to protect sacred lands and stop @SecBernhardt, @BLMNational, and @RealDonaldTrump from selling the Arctic Refuge to big oil. Spread the word to #ProtectTheArctic and #StandWithTheGwichin pic.twitter.com/4EyiHm93wM— Trustees for Alaska (@TrusteesForAK) August 24, 2020
The Porcupine Caribou Herd—upon whom the Gwich'in have relied for thousands of years—uses the Coastal Plain as their calving grounds. The likely impacts of oil and gas drilling on the herds—and thus the Gwich'in—are massive, the groups say. To boot, the lease sales threaten the area with a "spider web of industrialization" and the planet with more planet-heating emissions.
The plaintiffs in the suit, which include Environment America, Alaska Wilderness League, Alaska Wildlife Alliance, and Northern Alaska Environmental Center, say the administration's decision was "illegal," accusing it of violations of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, the National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the Wilderness Act, and the Endangered Species Act.
"Oil drilling and wildlife simply do not mix," said Steve Blackledge, senior director for Environment America's Conservation Program.
"Not only will the Trump administration's slapdash and tragic plan threaten one of the world's most untamed wildlife areas, but it is also completely blind to the reality that, in 2020, dangerously extracting more fossil fuels from the ground is a fool's errand when clean renewable energy options are rapidly on the rise," he added.
For Bernadette Demienteiff, executive director of the Gwich'in Steering Committee, there's nothing less than "the survival of future generations... at risk."
"As our ancestors before us, we will stand and fight for our future generations, for the Porcupine caribou herd, and the Gwich'in way of life," she said.
"We will stand up to anyone who seeks to destroy the calving grounds of the Porcupine caribou herd," said Demienteiff.