Americans Continue To Stand Strong For The Arctic Refuge

As the final meeting of the Department of the Interior’s rushed scoping process for drilling in the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge drew to a close last week, the Trump administration made it clear that they will continue to do everything they can to fast track oil and gas lease sales.

In fact, over the 60-day public comment period, we launched an unprecedented grassroots effort that brought together Gwich’in allies, Arctic champions in Congress, conservation groups and investors, outdoor recreation businesses, scholars, people of faith, small businesses, hundreds of thousands of everyday Americans and more – united in their commitment to fight to ensure the Arctic Refuge is protected for future generations.

The public showed up in force at the Anchorage public hearing, overwhelmingly opposing development. (Defend the Sacred AK)

At the same time, the Trump administration pulled out their procedural bag of tricks to do everything they could to make Arctic Refuge leasing happen before the political pendulum swings out of their favor. They aim to advance a lease sale in the heart of the Arctic Refuge by next summer, cutting two years from the typical environmental review process for oil and gas drilling, and making it clear that their ultimate goal is drilling at any cost, rather than what’s best for the American people.

Despite promises to adhere to existing environmental laws, the Department of the Interior denied requests for an extended public comment period and additional public hearings across the nation. A hurried, process is incompatible with protecting the wilderness and wildlife values of the Arctic Refuge or the subsistence needs of the Gwich’in people.

Circumventing the process has been the name of the game from the beginning. Arctic drilling was first approved in December as part of the GOP’s tax bill scam. Oil industry allies in Congress were able to leap frog over normal legislative channels and slip Arctic Refuge drilling into the tax bill using an expedited legislative process. They did this because they knew that winning support for such a controversial measure in an above-board process would otherwise have been impossible.

These political maneuverings have done little to silence the growing cacophony of voices that’s committed to keeping the Arctic Refuge wild.

Throughout the 60-day public comment period, support for the Arctic Refuge added up to:

  • 100 members of the U.S. House of Representatives
  • 30 U.S. Senators
  • More than 100 conservation groups and investors representing $2.5 trillion in assets
  • 24 organizations submitted 200 pages of technical comments
  • More than 70 athletes, 44 outdoor recreation businesses and 104 guides and outdoor recreation professionals
  • 500 scholars
  • 875 people of faith – plus 16,000 from the evangelical Christian community
  • 130 small business and organizations from around the country
  • 200 people rallying in Washington, D.C.
  • 250 Alaskans in Fairbanks – 48 providing public testimony at a public hearing (only 1 spoke in support of drilling), another 35 Alaskans stood up and requested the chance to speak after the meeting ended.
  • 175 Alaskans in Anchorage (29 testifying against Arctic drilling in a public hearing, another 15 stood up and requested the chance to speak after the meeting ended).
  • And last but certainly not least, more than 675,000 Americans (which, by the way, is more than 4 times the number of people that officials estimate attended Trump’s inauguration).

League executive director Adam Kolton testifies at the D.C. public hearing. (Mladen Mates / Alaska Wilderness League)

In the weeks and months to come, we know that the Trump administration will continue in its efforts to orchestrate a sham process in order to drill in one of our nation’s last pristine, wild places.  We will fight them every step of the way.

As the numbers show, Americans stand strong for the Arctic Refuge – a vast, untamed place that belongs to all of us.