National Audubon Society et al. v. David Bernhardt et al.
On August 24, 2020, NRDC and Earthjustice lawyers, representing the National Audubon Society, Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Earth, and NRDC, filed a lawsuit over the Trump administration’s decision to open 1.5 million acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge—the Coastal Plain—to oil and gas leasing.
The Coastal Plain is the biological heart of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: 1.56 million acres of tundra ecosystem that provide essential breeding, birthing, foraging, and overwintering habitat to countless animals, including polar bears, caribou, and birds from all 50 states. It comprises vast expanses of tundra, braided rivers, slopes, foothills, and shallow lakes and ponds. It is also exceedingly sensitive to change, with a short growing season, soils and waterbodies perched on permafrost and ice, and a thin, protective layer of productive vegetation that is vulnerable to disturbance and slow to recover.
The decision from the U.S. Interior Department Secretary David Bernhardt and the Bureau of Land Management ignores far-reaching adverse impacts and alternatives for reducing them, and unlawfully treats oil and gas as the dominant use of the refuge’s sensitive Coastal Plain. The accompanying biological opinion baselessly finds the program adequately ensures against harm to polar bears.
Our complaint pleads violations of the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, the National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act, and the Administrative Procedure Act. The Gwich’in Steering Committee, a voice for Indigenous communities, also filed a lawsuit, joined by other conservation groups. The Gwich’in people have depended on the Porcupine caribou herd, which calves on the Coastal Plain, for thousands of years. Protecting the Coastal Plain and caribou are thus a matter of basic human rights for the Gwich’in and the Iñupiat who stand with them and also depend on the Coastal Plain for subsistence and cultural practices.
Protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
One of the last unspoiled wild places on earth is at risk of being opened up to oil drilling.