Press Release

State Attorneys General Challenge Trump Administration Plan to Open Pristine Arctic Refuge to Oil & Gas Drilling

Coalition warns drilling would permanently scar the Coastal Plain, an area of “unrivaled and inestimable conservation value” within “[o]ur nation’s largest and wildest refuge.”

Wash­ing­ton, D.C. — A coali­tion of 15 attor­neys gen­er­al led by Wash­ing­ton Attor­ney Gen­er­al Bob Fer­gu­son and Mass­a­chu­setts Attor­ney Gen­er­al Mau­ra Healey filed a law­suit today chal­leng­ing the Trump administration’s deci­sion to begin leas­ing frag­ile and eco­log­i­cal­ly vital pub­lic lands with­in the Coastal Plain of the Arc­tic Nation­al Wildlife Refuge for oil and gas devel­op­ment.

The Coastal Plain is a 1.56 mil­lion-acre nation­al trea­sure, unpar­al­leled in its bio­log­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance for hun­dreds of species, includ­ing cari­bou, threat­ened polar bears, and mil­lions of birds that migrate to and from six con­ti­nents and through all 50 states.” The attor­neys gen­er­al warn that the administration’s unlaw­ful actions severe­ly under­es­ti­mate the avoid­able and irrepara­ble dam­age to vital habi­tat and pris­tine waters, imper­il wildlife already strug­gling to thrive in a rapid­ly chang­ing ecosys­tem, and increase green­house gas emis­sions at a time when our nation and the world dras­ti­cal­ly need to reduce emis­sions to mit­i­gate the most extreme harms of cli­mate change.”

Pres­i­dent Trump’s plan to open up America’s Arc­tic Nation­al Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling is the lat­est egre­gious exam­ple of his administration’s four-year assault on our envi­ron­ment,” said AG Fer­gu­son. Pres­i­dent Trump and Sec­re­tary Bern­hardt — a for­mer lob­by­ist for Big Oil — unlaw­ful­ly cut cor­ners in their haste to allow drilling in this pris­tine, untamed wildlife refuge to oil and gas devel­op­ment. I’m lead­ing a coali­tion of states to hold the Trump Admin­is­tra­tion account­able to the rule of law and block this unlaw­ful drilling plan.”

Pres­i­dent Trump’s plan to open up the pris­tine Arc­tic Nation­al Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas devel­op­ment will increase pol­lu­tion and deep­en the cli­mate emer­gency — a cri­sis his Admin­is­tra­tion doesn’t think exists,” said AG Healey. Cli­mate change is already wreak­ing hav­oc on our econ­o­my and coastal com­mu­ni­ties. We are suing to stop this Admin­is­tra­tion from destroy­ing our envi­ron­ment, our nat­ur­al resources, pre­cious wildlife, and thriv­ing clean ener­gy economies.”

In their com­plaint, the attor­neys gen­er­al empha­size that the Trump administration’s leas­ing plan and under­ly­ing Nation­al Envi­ron­men­tal Pol­i­cy Act (NEPA) analy­sis:

1) Are Incom­pat­i­ble With the Pur­pos­es of the Arc­tic Refuge — The Arc­tic Refuge was cre­at­ed under the Alas­ka Nation­al Inter­est Lands Con­ser­va­tion Act (ANIL­CA) explic­it­ly for con­ser­va­tion pur­pos­es. Oil and gas leas­ing is a new use” that must be for­mal­ly deter­mined by the Sec­re­tary of the Inte­ri­or to be com­pat­i­ble with the Arc­tic Refuge’s con­ser­va­tion pur­pos­es — a deter­mi­na­tion that the Trump admin­is­tra­tion failed to make, in vio­la­tion of the Refuge Admin­is­tra­tion Act. The administration’s leas­ing plan mate­ri­al­ly inter­feres with or detracts from the ful­fill­ment of the mis­sion of the [Nation­al Wildlife] Refuge Sys­tem and pur­pos­es of the Arc­tic Refuge because it unlaw­ful­ly pri­or­i­tizes oil and gas devel­op­ment above the con­ser­va­tion pur­pos­es of the Refuge Sys­tem and the Arc­tic Refuge.”

2) Give Inad­e­quate Con­sid­er­a­tion to Project Alter­na­tives — By exclu­sive­ly ana­lyz­ing project alter­na­tives that pri­or­i­tize oil and gas devel­op­ment over the Arc­tic Refuge’s fun­da­men­tal con­ser­va­tion pur­pos­es, the Trump admin­is­tra­tion vio­lat­ed NEPA’s man­date that fed­er­al agen­cies rig­or­ous­ly explore and objec­tive­ly eval­u­ate all rea­son­able alter­na­tives” to a pro­posed action.

3) Fail to Ade­quate­ly Ana­lyze Cli­mate Impacts — The admin­is­tra­tion dras­ti­cal­ly under­es­ti­mates the sig­nif­i­cant increase in green­house gas emis­sions that will result from the leas­ing pro­gram, includ­ing by fail­ing to assess the program’s impacts on glob­al ener­gy demand and irra­tional­ly con­clud­ing that 96% of Coastal Plain pro­duc­tion will replace oth­er U.S. pro­duc­tion.” The admin­is­tra­tion also failed to ade­quate­ly ana­lyze methane emis­sions and the cumu­la­tive impacts of oil and gas devel­op­ment and pro­duc­tion in the Arc­tic Refuge. The attor­neys gen­er­al note that their states are already expe­ri­enc­ing a wide range of dev­as­tat­ing and increas­ing­ly severe cli­mate impacts” that would be exac­er­bat­ed by the leas­ing pro­gram, impos­ing steep costs that the admin­is­tra­tion failed to quan­ti­fy.

4) Fail to Ade­quate­ly Ana­lyze Impacts on Migra­to­ry Birds — The administration’s envi­ron­men­tal impact state­ment fails to include crit­i­cal base­line data about migra­to­ry birds in the Coastal Plain,” and instead relies on con­clu­so­ry, unsup­port­ed state­ments and stale data.” The admin­is­tra­tion also sub­stan­tial­ly under­states the impact on migra­to­ry birds by pred­i­cat­ing its incom­plete analy­sis on sur­face dis­tur­bance acreage that is sig­nif­i­cant­ly less than what is rea­son­ably fore­see­able” under the leas­ing pro­gram. Togeth­er, these defi­cien­cies impair con­sid­er­a­tion of mit­i­ga­tion mea­sures that could reduce harm­ful impacts on the more than 156 migra­to­ry bird species [that] depend on the Coastal Plain’s unique ecosys­tem.”

5) Vio­late Congress’s Restric­tions on Sur­face Devel­op­ment — When Con­gress abrupt­ly end­ed the near­ly 40-year ban on oil and gas devel­op­ment on the Coastal Plain” through pro­vi­sions in the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, it imposed a num­ber of require­ments for the leas­ing pro­gram, includ­ing a 2,000-acre lim­it on sur­face devel­op­ment. The administration’s deci­sion unlaw­ful­ly and irra­tional­ly” inter­prets the restric­tion to apply only to a nar­row sub­set of facil­i­ties that are both pro­duc­tion and sup­port’ facil­i­ties,” and to exclude many oth­er facil­i­ties such as airstrips, roads and grav­el mines. By allow­ing sur­face dis­tur­bance on the Coastal Plain to exceed the 2,000-acre lim­it Con­gress imposed,” this strained inter­pre­ta­tion amounts to an unlaw­ful end-run around Con­gress.

In March 2019, a coali­tion of 16 attor­neys gen­er­al led by AG Fer­gu­son and AG Healey filed com­ments high­light­ing numer­ous flaws in the administration’s draft envi­ron­men­tal impact state­ment for the Coastal Plain leas­ing pro­gram. The com­ments detailed many of the same defi­cien­cies out­lined in the com­plaint filed today — defi­cien­cies the admin­is­tra­tion sub­se­quent­ly failed to address — and also not­ed that the admin­is­tra­tion dra­mat­i­cal­ly over­stat­ed the leas­ing program’s poten­tial eco­nom­ic ben­e­fits while down­play­ing the seri­ous and irrepara­ble envi­ron­men­tal harms that would occur” as a result of oil and gas devel­op­ment on the Coastal Plain.

The attor­neys gen­er­al of Cal­i­for­nia, Con­necti­cut, Delaware, Illi­nois, Maine, Mary­land, Michi­gan, Min­neso­ta, New Jer­sey, New York, Ore­gon, Rhode Island and Ver­mont joined AG Fer­gu­son and AG Healey in fil­ing the lawsuit.

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About the State Ener­gy & Envi­ron­men­tal Impact Cen­ter
The State Ener­gy & Envi­ron­men­tal Impact Cen­ter (State Impact Cen­ter) is a non-par­ti­san Cen­ter at the NYU School of Law that is ded­i­cat­ed to help­ing state attor­neys gen­er­al fight against reg­u­la­to­ry roll­backs and advo­cate for clean ener­gy, cli­mate change, and envi­ron­men­tal val­ues and pro­tec­tions. For more infor­ma­tion, vis­it our web­site.