WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.) and 29 of his Senate colleagues wrote to Secretary Zinke in response to the Department of the Interior’s notice to begin an Environmental Impact Statement for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
In addition to Senator Coons, the letter was also signed by Senators Cantwell (D-Wash.), Schumer (D-N.Y.), Markey (D-Mass.), Carper (D-Del.), Udall (D-N.M.), Wyden (D-Ore.), Bennet (D-Colo.), Duckworth (D-Ill.), Feinstein (D-Calif.), Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Smith (D-Minn.), Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Merkley (D-Ore.), Van Hollen (D-Md.), Hassan (D-N.H.), Durbin (D-Ill.), Baldwin (D-Wis.), Hirono (D-Hawaii), Nelson (D-Fla.), Shaheen (D-N.H.), Stabenow (D-Mich.), Heinrich (D-N.M.), Reed (D-R.I.), Harris (D-Calif.), Booker (D-N.J.), Menendez (D-N.J.), Sanders (I-Vt.) and Peters (D-Mich.).
In the letter, the Senators write, “We strenuously opposed enactment of section 20001 and believe that oil and gas development on the Coastal Plain is fundamentally incompatible with the purposes for which the Refuge was established. Oil and gas development will do irreparable harm to the Refuge, the fish and wildlife populations the Refuge was established to protect, and the native people who depend on those fish and wildlife populations for subsistence. It is clear that this provision would not have been enacted if it had not been included as part of the budget reconciliation bill, bypassing the normal legislative process.”
“There has been bipartisan commitment to protect the Coastal Plain of America’s most iconic national wildlife refuge for more than half a century, even predating the Eisenhower Administration’s establishment of the Arctic National Wildlife Range in 1960 to protect the area’s “unique wildlife, wilderness, and recreational values.”’ said the Senators. “Given the long history of the efforts to recognize the international importance of the Refuge and to protect its unique wildlife and wilderness values, we are concerned that the Department of the Interior will now seek to expedite the planning and environmental review process for an oil and gas program in the Refuge.”
“In administering the Refuge, the Secretary is still required to provide for the conservation of fish, wildlife, and plants, and their habitats; to ensure that the biological integrity, diversity, and environmental health of the Refuge are maintained for the benefit of present and future generations of Americans; and to permit only uses that are compatible with the major purposes for which the Refuge was established,” said the Senators. “Decades of drilling on Alaska’s North Slope have shown that the negative consequences of industrial development extend far beyond the project footprint. These consequences will be compounded in a region that is affected by climate change more than almost any other area in the United States, with Arctic temperatures rising at twice the rate of the contiguous United States.”
The full letter can be found here.