What You Need to Know About H.R. 6285 – An Arctic Extraction Bill 

In the first week of May, the House of Representatives voted and passed Rep. Stauber’s (R-MN) “Alaska’s Right to Produce Act of 2023” (H.R. 6285). This extreme “Arctic Extraction Bill” has the potential to not only reverse the recent safeguards the Biden administration put in place to protect 13 million acres of the Western Arctic, but it would also undo the cancelation of oil and gas leases in the Arctic Refuge and roll back 125 million acres of the Arctic Ocean from indiscriminate oil drilling.  

In short, this bill prioritizes resource extraction above all other uses of our public lands which are also sacred lands and cultural resources for Indigenous communities. It’s because of urgent bills like this that we’ve headquartered Alaska Wilderness League in Washington, D.C. so that we’re ready and on the ground to fight for critical public lands and waters throughout Alaska at the federal policy level. 

Our government affairs director, who constantly bounces from our D.C. office to late-breaking Hill meetings to defend Alaska said it best last week when it comes to the absolute absurdity of this bill:  

“This bill makes it abundantly clear that Congressional Republicans will continue to prioritize extractive industries, putting people, communities and landscapes in harm’s way in the beleaguered hope of turning a profit. Every step forward the administration takes to protect America’s Arctic, Congressional Republicans take us two steps back.”  

Just a week after we saw 13 million acres in the Western Arctic protected by the Biden Administration, the League was on the Hill working to defend those protections which came immediately under threat by H.R. 6285.  

Our legislative team works constantly to educate members of Congress and their staff on the importance of Alaska’s public lands and how these areas are connected to the state, districts and constituents they represent. And with slim majorities on either side in both the House and the Senate, every vote counts.  

And while H.R. 6285 did unfortunately pass the House by just a handful of votes, our legislative work had a major impact. Nearly every freshman member of Congress voted against this harmful bill and ultimately made a lasting political stance in defense of America’s Arctic. When it comes to complex policy, these kinds of stances are not quickly forgotten.  

What happens next for H.R. 6285 

With the way things currently stand in the Senate, we don’t even expect this bill to be brought up for a vote in the Senate (the next step towards becoming a law) and believe even if it did (and somehow passed), President Biden would not sign (the final step) such damaging legislation.  

However, we can’t stop working against bad bills based on political assumptions. We’re still sending Hill blasts to offices, asking Alaska Wilderness League members to call their Representatives, coordinating coalition efforts, and supporting phone banking efforts because: 

  • Any time a member of Congress takes a vote on an issue, it establishes their position. The more established, the harder a position is to change. This bill was the first vote on any Arctic public lands issues for nearly 40 democratic freshmen members. All but one of these key members voted against the bill, a critical first step as we work to build the base of support and grow new champions for Alaska’s public lands. We also applaud climate champions like Rep. Huffman (D-CA), Rep. Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), and Rep. Kamlager-Dove (D-CA) in the committee for continuing to stand strong in defense of these critical landscapes.
  • We expect more efforts from this Congress to undo protections, damage our climate and prioritize harmful oil and gas extraction. By demonstrating loud and consistent opposition to attacks on Alaska’s public lands we make sure there is no easy road for friends of Big Oil to sell out Alaska’s public lands to industry. It’s always easier to move things along when no one is looking, and we make sure no legislative attacks go unseen or unchallenged.  
  • We have big goals to secure durable and critical legislative protections for public lands across Alaska. These big wins will only become possible through many small steps, small wins, and incremental progress. Our efforts around H.R. 6285 and other future attacks increases members’ awareness of our issues, inspires them to speak out, and makes these issues timely and relevant. All of which are necessary and important steps towards our ambitious goals for Alaska’s public lands.  

The Wonky Stuff: H.R. 6285 backgrounder 

  • H.R. 6285 reinstates the 2020 Record of Decision for the Arctic Refuge Coastal Plain Leasing Program, requiring the administration to reissue the seven canceled leases which were found by the Department of the Interior to be unlawfully issued.  
  • The bill also waives all environmental safeguards and precludes all executive and judicial authority and oversight — mandating by legislative fiat the approval of all authorizations and permits required to proceed with drilling in the Refuge.  
  • H.R. 6285 would also withdraw the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) proposed NPR-A Rule — a conservation effort that, when finalized, will help protect surface resources and the 13 million acres of designated “Special Areas” meant to be managed for conservation in the Western Arctic. Without additional protections, this pristine landscape will continue to industrialize rapidly, contributing to species loss, land degradation, and climate change.  
  • Worse, H.R. 6285 would prohibit the BLM from issuing any substantially similar rule in the future — forcing the BLM, and all future administrations, to succumb to a broken status quo that seeks to prioritize fossil fuel extraction in the Western Arctic over all else. This proposed rule is a long overdue, common-sense reform and is consistent with the directives in the law governing the Reserve, the Naval Petroleum Reserves Production Act, which requires the Department of the Interior to protect “environmental, fish and wildlife, and historical or scenic values.”  
  • H.R. 6285 also seeks to eliminate 125 million acres of existing protections from oil and gas leasing in the Chukchi, Bering, and Beaufort Seas created by President Obama and restored by President Biden (EO 13990) using Presidential authority under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act.   
  • The Chukchi and Beaufort Seas provide vital habitat for many marine mammals, birds and fish, including the Pacific walrus, polar bear, bowhead whale, ice seals and Steller’s eider. Both presidents provided these protections because of the catastrophic impacts an oil spill would have on fish, wildlife and subsistence in a frozen ocean environment where we have neither the infrastructure, technology, nor experience to contain and clean up such a spill.  

We will keep fighting H.R. 6285 and other bills like it, and appreciate your engagement in the process!