Caribou graze on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, with the Brooks Range as a backdrop.

Coastal Plain spared for now

We have great news—yesterday the Arctic Refuge gained a reprieve when President Biden issued an executive order placing a temporary moratorium on federal government activities aimed at implementing the Trump Administration’s oil and gas leasing program on the Coastal Plain. Biden’s order, citing inadequate environmental review and related legal questions, directs the Secretary to review the leasing program and conduct a new environmental analysis.

"After several decades of many close calls, the wilderness integrity of the Arctic Refuge has been spared once again, at least temporarily, by Biden's first day actions. Much more is required so that it can remain truly wild and free into the eternity of the future," said Fran Mauer (Alaska Chapter Representative of Wilderness Watch).

Since oil was discovered at nearby Prudhoe Bay, Alaska over 50 years ago, State officials and the oil industry have set their sights on the Arctic Refuge. They were stymied at every turn until 2017, when the Republican-controlled Congress and President Trump pushed through as part of a tax cut bill, a provision to open the Refuge to oil and gas development. The Department of Interior's flawed environmental impact statement (EIS) opened the entire 1.5 million-acre coastal plain to oil and gas leasing and development.

On January 6 of this year, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) sold oil and gas drilling leases on more than half a million acres of the Coastal Plain. Additionally, proposed seismic testing across nearly half a million acres also threatens the Coastal Plain, and could kill or displace denning polar bears and turn the Refuge into an industrial wasteland crisscrossed by 90,000-pound “thumper” trucks, airstrips for helicopters and airplanes, bulldozers, tractors, incinerators, and more.

Meanwhile, Wilderness Watch joined with several other groups in an August 2020 lawsuit against the leasing program and seismic exploration. The legal challenge is still active and moving forward, and we are optimistic that ultimately the Refuge will be safe, the leasing program and seismic exploration proposal dropped.

It’s been a long four years of fighting to protect our irreplaceable Arctic Refuge, and we’re extremely grateful for all the public comment letters you’ve sent to the federal agencies and for financial support for our ongoing legal efforts.

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Photo: Caribou graze on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge,
with the Brooks Range as a backdrop. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

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