ARCTIC REFUGE SEIS AND PUBLIC COMMENT
Earlier this month, we celebrated the news that Interior Secretary Deb Haaland had canceled the last remaining oil and gas leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which were held by the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA). And with the cancellation of those leases, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) also issued a Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) for public comment, which attempts to correct flaws in the Trump-era environmental impact statement for the oil and gas leasing program on the coastal plain. The Draft SEIS triggered a 45-day comment period, which has now been extended an additional 15 days and will end on November 7, 2023.
Northern Center strongly opposes oil and gas activities on the coastal plain, but we recognize that a leasing program is required by law, as outlined in the Trump-era Tax Act. We are grateful for the Biden administration’s efforts to strengthen protections for the Refuge through the current Draft SEIS, but more has to be done to protect the coastal plain from oil and gas development in this process. We encourage you to weigh in via public comment via one of the following opportunities:
- In Anchorage: October 16, 5 pm at Loussac Library.
- In Fairbanks: October 23, 5 pm at the Carlson Center.
- Virtual hearings: Register for a virtual hearing on September 22, October 6, October 11, or October 17.
- Write your comment: Submit a written comment online.
- More opportunities: A full hearing schedule is available here.
Here are some talking points to uplift in your comments:
- Thank the Administration for canceling the existing leases in the Refuge, and push them to create the most protections possible for the coastal plain through the new EIS.
- The coastal plain is a sacred place to the Gwich’in Nation, and the SEIS does not acknowledge the cultural harms caused to the Gwich’in people by the oil and gas leasing program.
- The alternatives set forth in the Draft SEIS do not grant strong enough protections to the Porcupine caribou herd, which the Gwich’in Nation relies on for cultural survival and food security.
- BLM should look at the caribou migration route through a lens of climate change, and consider how caribou habitat in the Arctic Refuge will change in the coming decades. Changing migration routes and habitat will likely increase the impacts of any oil and gas activity on the Porcupine herd.
- There is not enough protection for on-shore denning habitat for polar bears: the SEIS is inconsistent in protecting polar bear denning habitat, protecting some habitat but leaving some vulnerable, especially for denning sows and cubs. Stronger protections are needed for both the Canning River delta and the Camden bay area.
- Even under the most protective alternative put forth, “no surface occupancy” stipulations are broad and undefined and there still appear to be loopholes that would allow for infrastructure and development. If NSO stipulations are meant to provide protections for leased tracts, they must be well-defined and unwaivable in the EIS.
WESTERN ARCTIC (RESERVE) PROTECTIONS AND PUBLIC COMMENT
At the same time as the Arctic Refuge announcements, the Bureau of Land Management also released a new proposed rule for the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (Reserve), which would create stronger safeguards against new oil-and-gas leasing in designated Special Areas.
According to our friends at Trustees for Alaska, the proposed rule “would enshrine 13 million acres of already designated protected areas into the formal regulations. It would also put in place a process for adopting and expanding protected areas through an agency review and public input period every five years, and encourage co-stewardship with Tribes in these protected areas.”
However, these regulations do not stop existing oil and gas projects in the Reserve, such as the Willow project.
We encourage you to weigh in on the new proposed rule during the comment period, which has been extended and will close on December 7. You may comment online here.
Comments can include the following:
- Thank the Administration for strengthened protections, but underline the need for more restrictions on existing oil and gas projects in the face of the climate crisis.
- Ask BLM to take steps to safeguard the entire region, not just special areas, including restrictions that prevent industrial activities. BLM should expand the protections in the rule to ensure areas outside of special areas are also protected and that BLM has strong standards in place for all parts of the Reserve. The strong protections laid out in the regulations shouldn’t apply only to special areas.
- BLM should take out the loopholes that could allow for oil and gas development and infrastructure within special areas. Those areas are too valuable and should be protected to the maximum extent possible.
- Ask the agency to take bold action to build more enduring protections for the region.