Caribou graze on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. This area is essential for raising newborn caribou calves, but is targeted for drilling. Photo: USFWS

Court upholds Interior's authority to suspend oil and gas leases in the Arctic Refuge

Good news!

Earlier this month, a U.S. District Court dismissed all claims made by the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA) and the State of Alaska in a lawsuit attempting to force the Department of the Interior to move forward an illegal drilling program on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

In March 2022, Wilderness Watch joined the Gwich’in Steering Committee and other allied groups, represented by Trustees for Alaska, as intervenors in the lawsuit to defend Interior’s suspension of leases and oil and gas activities.

The reprieve for the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge is welcome news for the Porcupine caribou herd and other native wildlife, but it’s just a temporary reprieve to be sure.

The so-called Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 ordered the federal government to hold two lease sales on the coastal plain by December 2024. The Trump administration did a cursory Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and issued the first round of leases in January 2021. But soon thereafter, the incoming Biden administration noted legal deficiencies with the rushed environmental review and suspended the leasing activity to allow preparation of a supplemental EIS, expected sometime this fall.

AIDEA and the State of Alaska challenged the government’s authority to pause the leasing activity while performing more robust environmental analysis, but in our important legal win this month, the District Court made clear that their claims lacked merit. The state has signaled its intent to appeal the decision; however, so the fight isn’t quite over yet.

In recent years, thousands of you have heeded our calls to action to defend the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from oil and gas leasing.

Please stay tuned and be ready to raise your voice again, because we’ll need all hands on deck to protect the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge once the supplemental EIS is released sometime this fall.

As Fran Mauer, the Alaska chapter representative for Wilderness Watch, has said previously, "We will continue to fight to preserve the Arctic Refuge with greater resolve so that it will remain wild forever. If industry and its subservient public officials are allowed to despoil America’s wildest place, nowhere on Earth is safe from their greed."

As always, thank you for your vigilance!


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Photo: Caribou graze on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, an area essential for raising newborn caribou calves. Credit: USFWS

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