The Interior Department is opening up the entire Coastal Plain of the refuge to polluters—at the expense of Indigenous peoples' traditional ways of life, numerous wildlife species, and the climate.
The U.S. Department of the Interior formally opened up Alaska’s untouched Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling today, an unprecedented decision that threatens the Gwich’in people’s and other Indigenous groups’ ways of life in addition to exacerbating both the climate and biodiversity crises.
“This is an egregious intrusion into the sacred lands of the Gwich’in and other Indigenous people,” says NRDC president Gina McCarthy. “It threatens the heart of the largest pristine wildland left in America—the birthing grounds and nursery for the Porcupine caribou herd and home to polar bears, musk oxen, migratory birds, and other precious wildlife.”
The Gwich’in people have been living in the Arctic for thousands of years, and they rely on the Porcupine caribou herd for food, clothing, tools, and spiritual guidance. Many Inupiat people also rely on the refuge for caribou as well as clean lands and water. Yet for decades, fossil fuel companies have tried to exploit the area’s oil reserves. After a controversial tax act undid the reserve’s long-standing protections in late 2017, the Trump administration began advancing plans for a massive oil and gas leasing program in the region that could last a half century and come with a significant climate price tag.
“The administration’s reckless, relentless boosting of the oil industry will irrevocably damage this cherished place and compound the global climate crisis,” McCarthy says. “We will not let it stand.”
The Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management released its environmental impact statement (EIS) for the plan in September. The final EIS both failed to consider an alternative approach that would minimize damage to the land, as well as drilling’s impact on wildlife and the lives of the Gwich’in people.
“The Trump administration never stops,” McCarthy says, “and we will never stop suing them.”