By Garett Rose, Natural Resources Defense Council
The Trump administration just released its Final Environmental Impact Statement for oil and gas leasing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. This document, like the draft it is based one, is a slapdash attempt to skirt the environmental laws it purports to satisfy.
The administration is rushing to ensure that leases carving up the Refuge can be sold this year. There is no legitimate reason to do this: Even those in Congress who wrote the law eviscerating the refuge gave the Department of the Interior four years to start doing that.
The administration’s draft version was a half-baked attempt to explain and explain away all the environmental impacts of a massive leasing program that will last nearly a century. The final version is no different.
The FEIS unlawfully opens the entire coastal plain to leasing. It fails to even consider an approach that minimizes damage to the refuge’s unique environment, violating our bedrock environmental review law. As we review, I also expect to find that it fails to meaningfully consider the impacts of oil development on iconic species like polar bears, the calving grounds of the Porcupine caribou herd—vitally important to Gwich’in people in the United States and Canada—millions of migratory birds, and the tundra and permafrost that support the entire ecosystem.
Insidiously, the FEIS perpetuates the “2,000-acre myth.” The legislation opening up the refuge purported to limit development to “only” 2,000 acres. Drilling proponents hold it as an article of faith that this limitation will minimize environmental impacts and constrain development to a small area.
This is either delusional or a willful lie: The 2,000 acre estimate itself does not include development such as the ice roads and pipelines that will snake across the coastal plain, connecting polluting facilities in a spider’s web of destruction. Furthermore, the administration maintains that this 2,000-acre limit is rolling—as one acre of impacted land is “remediated” (which, of course, is up to the administration), a new acre can be destroyed. All told, the 2,000-acre limitation is not just a deception, but a toothless one at that.
The Trump administration is dead set on using this flawed FEIS to move forward in its quest to open the refuge. But the Arctic Refuge is too special to be sacrificed. This FEIS makes a mockery of our administrative process. The law and the American people demand more, and we will hold the Administration to account at every step.