State of the Arctic: Year in Review

From the Arctic Ocean, to the Arctic Refuge, to the Western Arctic, NRDC and our partners have been leading the charge to save the biggest wild place left in America from senseless, destructive, climate-wrecking fossil fuel development.

The Trump Administration gave the oil and gas industry a big year-end present in the form of oil and gas leases in the Western Arctic. So long as these efforts continue, the American Arctic is surely in dire straits. But 2019 provided signs of hope: Off the Arctic coast, we reinstated 125 million acres of protections from oil development. Shortly after taking office, President Trump set his sights on this, our last pristine marine ecosystem. Boasting he would establish “global energy dominance” for America—and by energy dominance, he meant dirty energy dominance, he claimed the right to cancel permanent protections for 98% of the U.S. Arctic Ocean. Representing Alaska Natives and a coalition of environmental groups, we and our co-counsel at Earthjustice went straight to federal court. In March of this year, a federal court in Alaska found Trump exceeded constitutional limits on his powers. The court ruled that the oil and gas leasing ban Trump tried to revoke “will remain in full force and effect unless and until revoked by Congress.”

Safeguarding the Arctic Refuge

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, in all its ecological richness, remains one of the Trump Administration’s primary targets

Arctic Refuge

Garett Rose

This year, Trump’s Interior Department blasted through a shoddy environmental analysis of Arctic oil and gas drilling to justify selling off the Refuge by year end. NRDC opposed it every step of the way, working with indigenous, regional, and national partners to force the Administration to follow the law, highlight the analysis’s numerous deficiencies, draw attention to Interior’s attempts silence science, and build ever more support for the Arctic Refuge. That planned sale (which, in any event, need not happen until 2021 under the governing law) has been postponed.

Interior has shown no signs of giving up its goal of turning the Refuge into an industrial wasteland and, in the end, only Congressional action can preserve the Refuge for posterity. But NRDC is ready to use every means at its disposal—including litigation—to ensure that the Refuge remains unspoiled for future generations and off limits to the oil industry.

Arctic Refuge

Garett Rose

Shielding the Western Arctic from Industrial Expansion

Less well-known, but no less magnificent, the Western Arctic continues to be subject to oil industry expansion.

Western Arctic

Bureau of Land Management

But the tables are turning. This year, the Native Village of Nuiqsut together with NRDC and other conservation groups sued the Administration over slapdash environmental reviews used to justify winter exploration for oil and gas. The new year will bring new challenges in the form of new exploration attempts, further advances on Conoco’s massive Willow project, and BLM’s attempts to open even more of the Western Arctic to industrial development. As Nuiqsut’s lawsuit shows, however, people are fed up with the federal government using the Arctic as an oil slush fund.

About the Authors

Garett Rose

Staff Attorney, Alaska Project, Nature Program

Niel Lawrence

Alaska Director and Senior Attorney, Land & Wildlife Program

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