Two federal agencies are facing off over impacts of Arctic drilling

Two federal agencies are facing off over impacts of Arctic drilling

 

The Trump Administration’s push to drill in the Arctic has stirred a public dispute between two federal agencies with oversight over on issue.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agency in recently published comments slammed the Bureau of Land Management’s faulty draft environmental impact study for failing to adequately consider climate change, the impact of drilling on polar bears and other issues.

FWS had previously managed the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge but BLM was tasked with the impact study after the Trump administration made drilling there a priority and Trump’s Interior Department, which oversees both BLM and FWS, issued an order to speed up and shorten environmental impact assessments in order to push ahead with seismic exploration and energy leases in the pristine ecosystem.

The Refuge consists of more than 19 million acres of wild lands and was first set aside for protection in 1960. It is home to polar bears, caribou, grizzlies, wolves, wolverines, muskoxen and more than 130 species of migratory birds. It’s 1.5 million-acre coastal plain region was opened up to drilling in a provision in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act to obtain the support of Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski.

Before FWS’s comments were made public, a group called Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER)charged that FWS memos detailing unknown impacts of drilling in the Arctic were kept from public view, according to an E&E News report. The group posted a document it obtained that was a memo from FWS Alaska Regional Director Gregory Siekaniec outlining the information that needed to be gathered to properly asses the impacts of drilling in the Arctic region.

In its comments it made public recently after PEER posted the agency’s internal memos of Arctic drilling impacts, FWS called out BLM for minimizing and failing to include at all several issues related to climate change in its draft environmental impact statement, including climate change impacts on birds, sea-level rise, sea-ice loss and stronger storm surges and flooding that will imperil birds and polar bears, Science Magazine reported.

In March, FoA filed comments with BLM also criticizing its impact study saying it lacked sufficient analysis about the harm to polar bears, water resources, caribou and other wildlife.

FWS’s criticism of its sister agency’s assessment of the impacts of drilling in the Arctic is the second in a wave of recent actions to cheer about. In April, a federal judge in Alaska ruled that the administrations revocation of a ban on energy exploration that covered more than 100 million acres of off-shore waters was illegal.

To help the Arctic’s wildlife, contact your U.S. Representative and tell them to support the bipartisan Arctic Cultural and Coastal Plain Protection Act that will protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from oil and gas drilling. You can find your member of Congress here.

For more on FoA’s efforts to protect the Arctic Refuge, click here.