Environmental Groups Sue Trump Administration for Permitting Oil Drilling in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

The Trump Administration approved oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and environmental groups are striking back with two lawsuits.

Sophie Hirsh - Author

Aug. 26 2020, Updated 12:10 p.m. ET

lawsuit trump drilling arctic national wildlife refuge
Source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/Getty Images

This undated photo shows muskoxen in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.

Earlier this month, jaws dropped around the country when the Trump administration greenlit oil drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, potentially opening up 18.7 million acres of pristine natural land to environmental destruction. Unsurprisingly, a band of environmental organizations are now suing Trump’s agencies over the oil drilling proposal

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In case you missed the news last week, U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt announced a plan that would allow oil and gas companies to lease land for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which Trump signed into law with an executive order, as CNN reported. 

The matter of drilling for oil in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is not new. It has been a battle since at least the early 2000s, when President George W. Bush tried to open the land up to drilling.

Two lawsuits are being filed against Trump for opening up oil drilling on Alaskan land.

lawsuit trump drilling arctic national wildlife refuge
Source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/Getty Images

Animals walk under a pipeline in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska in this undated photo.

This week, various environmental groups announced two lawsuits against the federal government for this ruling, both being filed in the federal court of Alaska. 

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One is being filed by the NRDC and nonprofit environmental law organization Earthjustice, on behalf of the National Audubon Society, the Center For Biological Diversity, Friends of the Earth, and Stand.earth. Earthjustice’s lawsuit is specifically directed at Bernhardt and the Department of the Interior, William P. Pendley of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and Chad Padgett of Alaska’s Bureau of Land Management.

Natalie Dawson, executive director of Audubon Alaska, explained that the BLM worked with Audubon on a plan to protect the area, but BLM has now gone back on its promise. “The agency has buckled under political pressure and is throwing away protections for these special areas,” she said in a statement. 

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“This plan to expose the Arctic Refuge to the hazard and harm of drilling violates so many laws, it’s hard to even list them all,” Garett Rose, attorney for the Alaska project at NRDC, said in a statement. “Here’s the administration, ready to violate an area sacred to the Gwich’in and other Indigenous people.”

The second lawsuit is being filed by the nonprofit law firm Trustees for Alaska, on behalf of 12 environmental groups (including Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society, and Alaska Wildlife Alliance) as well as the Gwich’in Steering Committee, a group representing the native Gwich’in tribe of Alaska and Canada. This lawsuit is directed at Bernhardt as well as the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

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BLM’s decision to violate lands sacred to my people and essential to the health of the Porcupine caribou herd is an attack on our rights, our culture and our way of life,” said Bernadette Demientieff, executive director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee. “We have lived and thrived in the Arctic for thousands of years. We have listened and learned from our elders, and we know we must stand united to protect future generations, and that means going to court to protect the caribou herd and sacred lands.”

Drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge would hurt nature in endless ways.

According to the Native American Rights Fund, drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge area could hurt Gwich'in people, 37 species of land mammals, eight species of marine mammals, 42 species of fish, and more than 200 migratory bird species. And as Dr. Rajat Panwar, associate professor of Sustainable Business Management at Appalachian State University, told Green Matters, “Drilling in the arctic refuge will severely hamper wildlife migration leading to species extinction and decline in outdoor activities.”

On top of all that, drilling and fracking has endless side effects that the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge — and the planet — cannot afford to withstand, such as water and air pollution, earthquakes, and increasing greenhouse gases.

Election Day is Nov. 3. Register to vote at vote.gov and head to your state’s board of elections for details on requesting a mail-in or absentee ballot. 

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