Huffman Leads Committee Members in Letter to Administration Opposing Rushed Oil and Gas Development in Arctic Refuge

Insufficient Biological Opinion Ignores Science, Threatens Endangered Polar Bears

July 17, 2020

Washington, D.C. – Today, Representative Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael), Chair of the Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife, led fellow senior House Natural Resources Committee members in sending a letter to U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary David Bernhardt. The letter expresses strong opposition to oil and gas lease sales on the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and concerns over legal and scientific flaws in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (“FWS”) Biological Opinion pertaining to the oil and gas leasing program on the Coastal Plain. 

Chair Huffman was joined by House Natural Resources Committee Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.); Vice Chair and Chair of the Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands Deb Haaland (D-N.M.); Chair of the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, Committee Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.); and Chair of the Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples of the United States Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.)

“The proposed oil and gas leasing program for the Coastal Plain has suffered from reckless haste, irresponsible public process, and lack of transparency. Given that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has taken the position that it cannot prohibit exploration and other activities on the Coastal Plain during future permitting processes, it is even more important to be scientifically and legally rigorous throughout the ongoing process,” the Chairs state in the letter. “We request that you rescind the Biological Opinion and address the significant issues raised in this letter, as well as the BLM’s inconsistent positions regarding its post-leasing authority to prevent harm to polar bears on the Coastal Plain.”

Earlier this year, a new study from Polar Bear International considered the risks of oil and gas exploration and development activities in northern Alaska to mother polar bears and their cubs while denning. It found significant failures with the industry standard practice of forward looking infrared (FLIR) imagery to detect the maternal dens under the snow, adding to concerns that existing policies are insufficient to properly protect these protected but threatened species.

A copy of the full letter can be found here.