Wild lands like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge belong to all Americans. We should be able to enjoy them throughout time, and pass the experiences in and from these wild places unimpaired on to the next generation. Last year, Congress forced through a tax bill that changed long-term protection for the Arctic plain with a provision that allows drilling in this largely untouched landscape.
Now, pro-drilling allies in and out of the current administration are cutting corners and hiding information to rush the process to lease critical areas of the Arctic refuge to oil and gas companies. This reckless, ill-conceived project is unwarranted and opposed by more than 70 percent of the American people, according to polling recently highlighted by The New York Times in a Dec. 3 front-page article.
The recently released Fourth National Climate Assessment and the U.S. Geological Survey report highlight the impacts already being felt by our public lands, especially in Alaska. The USGS survey, which the administration recently buried the release of, acknowledges and quantifies, that one-quarter of the greenhouse gases our country produces are being produced on federal lands. This lays out the direct role that the federal government has in accelerating the severe toll climate change is exacting on our nation. It is unbelievable that this administration has the facts on the tragic effects of climate change in our country today — the California wildfires and the devastating hurricanes in the Southeast — and still rushes forward with oil and gas lease sales in places like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
The coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is critical wildlife habitat. A nursery for species year round, the coastal plain supports thousands of calving caribou in the summer, nesting migratory birds in the late summer into early fall, and denning polar bears in the winter and spring. This unique habitat is on the climate change front lines, yet the current administration is needlessly expediting the process to hold an oil and gas lease sale here.
Opening a new oil frontier on the Arctic refuge coastal plain would forever scar the landscape, impact iconic wildlife and add additional stress to our climate. The right thing to do to address climate change is to change course, explore renewables instead of leasing every last inch of our public lands, and in particular to protect wild places like our Arctic refuge.
At 19.6 million acres, the Arctic refuge supports some of the most diverse and stunning populations of wildlife in the Arctic, including polar and brown bears, wolves, caribou and birds from all 50 states. Its coastal plain is an area critical to the Gwich’in people who, for thousands of years, have depended on the Porcupine caribou for their way of life.
The current administration should immediately stop the expedited process to sell Arctic refuge oil leases to the highest bidder. We cannot allow the heart of our Arctic refuge, the coastal plain, to be handed to oil companies while the rest of the country tries to deal with climate catastrophes. Drilling the coastal plain would forever scar the landscape, impact iconic wildlife and increase our climate risk. And it would destroy the way of life of the native Gwich’in people. This is unacceptable.
I urge you to contact your members of Congress and urge them to become familiar with the catastrophic effects that oil and gas leasing could have specifically in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and generally to the growing climate change challenges we face. Protect your tax dollars and public lands. Urge them to take steps to reverse the oil and gas leases and to return critical protection to these irreplaceable wild places.
Daniel Tandy, a coordinator for the Alaska Coalition and former National Parks Service ranger in Alaska, has been a business owner in Maine for more than 30 years. He and his family live on Mount Desert Island.