The Trump regime is moving at bureaucratic breakneck speed to set in place oil leases in Alaska’s Arctic Refuge, hoping to cement into place a longtime goal of Big Oil before power in our nation’s capital potentially changes.
A provision buried in the Republicans’ 2017 tax scam bill at the request of oil lobbyists opened the door to development, without hearings or consideration of environment or climate impacts. The leasing would be allowed over 1.6 million acres — the Coastal Plain of America’s greatest wilderness.
Fifteen states on Wednesday filed a federal lawsuit in the District of Alaska to block oil and gas leasing in the Refuge, or “ANWR”, as the industry calls it.
Washington and Massachusetts are in the lead on the lawsuit.Lawsuit to protect the Arctic Refuge from drilling
Perhaps not since Ferguson’s first challenge to the Trump regime, which concerned the illegal travel ban aimed at Muslims, have stakes in a suit against the incumbent been this high. We were then talking about a racist immigration policy. We are now talking about the fate of the Earth, our common home.
“There is not a climate crisis,” the Trump-controlled Bureau of Land Management claimed in its environmental review of the drilling plan.
The Arctic is warming up and melting faster than any place on the planet, with consequences felt in our far-away backyard. The ice pack is shrinking. Permafrost is melting. Methane is being emitted into the atmosphere at an alarming rate. Giant fires are scorching Siberia. The shrinking ice pack no longer forms in time to protect native villages from fall storms off the Bering Sea.
As to direct impacts, we can draw on the example of the Canning River, which forms the western boundary of the Arctic Refuge, and is in the direct path for haul roads, drilling platforms and future pipelines.
The western side of the river, where industry has explored, is a kind of tundra wasteland. Empty oil barrels littler the landscape. CAT tracks remain years after rigs plowed through. By contrast, on the pristine east shore, caribou appear out of and disappear into the mists. Musk oxen plowed through our camp at the conclusion of a raft trip. A snowy plover flapped about, trying to draw the attention of a fox and protect the eggs in her nest.
The Coastal Plain is calving ground for more than 100,000 animals of the Porcupine Caribou herd. Beaufort Sea breezes mean fewer bugs. In turn, the herd supports one of the Earth’s last great predator-prey relationships, with wolves and barren ground grizzly bears always seeking out stragglers and the weak.
The lawsuit filed by the fifteen states in Anchorage charges that a rushed Trump regime drilling plan violates multiple laws, from the landmark National Environmental Policy Act to the Administrative Procedure Act. Ferguson has caught the administration before in fast, sloppy procedural work.
“President Trump and [Interior] Secretary Bernhardt – a former lobbyist for Big Oil – unlawfully cut corners in their haste to allow drilling in this pristine, untamed wildlife refuge to oil and gas development,” Ferguson said Wednesday.
“I’m leading a coalition of states to hold the Trump administration accountable to the rule of law and block this unlawful drilling plan.”
Ferguson has won or shared in two dozen legal victories against Trump administration efforts to roll back environmental protection and energy efficiency laws. The Refuge suit is his seventy-seventh legal challenge.
Overall, Ferguson has notched thirty-three wins.
State Republicans have often claimed he is grandstanding.
“Aren’t you tired of Bob Ferguson suing conservatives to impress liberals?” scammer Tim Eyman likes to say to his followers.
But it is refreshing to have an Attorney General who doesn’t content himself to suing used car dealers caught rolling back odometers. Ditto with Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healy, Ferguson’s frequent collaborator.
Governor Jay Inslee, in a frequent role, is playing Ferguson’s wing man. “Hard to say what’s worse – destroying the nation’s largest wildlife refuge, or further inflaming the climate crisis with new oil and gas drilling so a few fossil fuel companies can profit at the people’s expense,” Inslee said in a statement.
The states are also making common cause with Alaskan Gwi’chin natives, who depend on the Porcupine Herd for sustenance and clothing. The Arctic Village Council and Venetie Village Council have filed a separate lawsuit.
The states claim that Trump’s folks violated NEPA by failing to adequately analyze the impacts its oil and gas leasing program will have on the world’s climate.
They also argue that the Trump regime failed to think about a reasonable alternative plan that would minimize impacts on the Canning River and Coastal Plain. As if that weren’t bad enough, the Trump folks did not bother to follow NEPA requirements to assess impacts on migratory birds.
The Arctic Refuge has been the object of a political battle for more than 60 years.
The wild north slope of the Brooks Range was explored by pioneer naturalists Olaus and Mardy Murie, who welcomed the legendary United States Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas to camp one year.
“Wild Bill” celebrated his stay in his 1960 book “My Wilderness: The Pacific West.” Two Fairbanks-based pilot/conservationists, Ginny Wood and Celia Hunter, lobbied the Eisenhower Administration to protect the area.
In 1960, just before leaving office, Ike designated an eight million acre Arctic National Wildlife Range. The area became a major bone of contention as Congress passed the 1980 Alaskan Lands Act.
Congress enlarged to nineteen million acres what it renamed the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, or Arctic Refuge for short. It protected eight million acres as wilderness. But it punted on the Coastal Plain. A provision of the act gave Congress power to approve drilling in the Coastal Plain.
The George H.W. Bush administration was on the verge of pushing through leasing, when in 1989 the tanker Exxon Valdez hit Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound. Big Oil had to retreat for a time.
George W. Bush’s administration took up the cause, along with Alaska’s oil-beholden political class. Interior Secretary Gale Norton dismissed the Coastal Plain as “flat white nothingness.” Conservative pundit Jonah Goldberg flew over the area and produced fuzzy pictures of fog. The decline in production at Prudhoe Bay, just west of the Refuge, intensified the lobbying campaign.
The Refuge had its defenders. Celia Hunter died of a heart attack at her desk in Fairbanks, sending out appeals to lobby senators against drilling. A young Boeing employee, Subhankar Banerjee, spent a winter in the Refuge, producing a book “The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: Seasons of Light and Life.”
Banerjee’s photographs were going on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, when suddenly the exhibit was moved to a lower corridor leading to a loading dock.
Quotations, even from ex-President Jimmy Carter, were censored.
It turns out Alaska’s powerful Senator Ted Stevens was angered when Sen. Barbara Boxer put up an easel with Banerjee’s photos during Senate floor debate. Museums around the country rushed to sign up exhibits of Banerjee’s work.
Sen. Maria Cantwell, D‑Washington, has been a foremost defender of the Refuge. In 2006 she blocked a backdoor effort by Sen. Stevens to attach Refuge drilling to a defense authorization bill. Nobody filibusters a defense bill, but Cantwell and then Senator Joe Lieberman, of Connecticut, threatened to do just that.
Stevens responded with fury on the Senate floor, threatening to come to Washington State and campaign against Cantwell.
He did, and she was reelected with almost fifty-seven percent of the vote.
During debate on the Republicans’ tax scam bill, Cantwell lost a close 52–48 vote in attempting to remove provisions for drilling in the Coastal Plain.
The Refuge is an awesome place.
Cantwell was there a few years ago, she peered into a spotting scope and spotted both a wolverine and a barren ground grizzly bear. Turning to her host, Zumiez cofounder and NPI supporter Tom Campion, the Senator asked: “Is this unusual?”