On Thursday, the Department of the Interior struck a blow for American energy independence as it released its final environmental impact statement that supported opening a tiny part of Alaska’s gigantic Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil drilling.
Discussing the energy leasing provisions contained in Section 20001 of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, which President Trump signed into law, the statement read:
The Act directs the Secretary of the Interior, through the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), to establish two area-wide leasing sales, not less than 400,000 acres each, along the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. It also authorizes up to 2,000 acres, or 0.01 percent of ANWR’s 19.3 million acres, for surface facilities.
U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt stated, “Affordable energy and great paying energy jobs help power our nation’s economy, which is clearly thriving under President Trump’s policies. After rigorous review, robust public comment, and a consideration of a range of alternatives, today’s announcement is a big step to carry out the clear mandate we received from Congress to develop and implement a leasing program for the Coastal Plain, a program the people of Alaska have been seeking for over 40 years.”
Margaret Everson, Principal Deputy Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, echoed, “A large and diverse team including Tribes, partners, the state of Alaska and experts from across the Service worked with BLM on the range of alternatives contained in the EIS, as well as the protective mitigation measures that would apply to oil and gas activities in this unique area. The team’s work forms the scientific and conservation foundation that will protect high-value wildlife habitats and important uses in this area, while advancing the President’s agenda on energy independence.”
Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy added, “Forty years after Congress selected the Arctic Coastal Plain for potential energy development, the Trump Administration is making good on that decades old potential. I join with all Alaska Governors since 1980 in assuring the nation and the world that we develop our natural resources responsibly. I look forward to the lease sale scheduled for later this year.”
Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) added, “At a time when Democratic presidential candidates are promising to end all energy investments on public lands, thus killing tens of thousands of American jobs, it is good to see the current administration fighting for energy production grounded in environmental science.”
Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) commented: “The leasing program in ANWR is supported by the Iñupiat people of Kaktovik, the closest indigenous people to the area; it will grow the tax base; it will increase job opportunities; and it will reduce U.S. reliance on foreign oil even further so that the United States will no longer have to support countries fraught with instability, poor human rights records, and lax environmental standards.”
Environmentalists planned to fight the decision; Anne Hawke of the Natural Resources Defense Council threatened, “We will indeed sue.” Jamie Rappaport Clark, president of the group Defenders of Wildlife, warned, “This Arctic National Wildlife Refuge leasing plan is another disgraceful example of the Trump administration’s continued rejection of environmental law, sound science and the wishes of the American people in protecting wildlife and wild lands. We will see them in court for this reckless effort to turn this iconic American landscape into an industrial oil field.”
Rep. Jared Huffman, (D-CA), complained, “There are some places too wild, too important, too unique to be spoiled by oil-and-gas development. The Arctic Refuge’s Coastal Plain is one of those special places.”
Erik Milito of the American Petroleum Institute countered, “The potential for safe and environmentally responsible energy development in this area is incredibly large and a key part of a long-term vision for U.S. energy security. Responsible access to the Arctic region is in our national security interest, with other nations like Russia, Canada and Norway already actively exploring the area.”
The area involved, as The Wall Street Journal noted, is tiny compared to the massive size of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The Journal wrote, “The plan they are moving forward with would allow the industry to disturb the earth for its drilling pads, processing plants and roads on just 0.01% of the refuge’s 19 million acres.” Not only that, but the Journal added, “The plan will include a ban on any activity along the plain’s biggest rivers and in its far northwestern corner to protect caribou calving grounds,” according to administration officials.
Chad Padgett, state director for Interior’s Bureau of Land Management in Alaska, said the administration could offer leases to oil companies by the end of 2019.