ICYMI: Rep. Huffman, Former Nuiqsut Mayor Virtual Press Conference on Biden Administration's Decision Regarding Protections for Sacred Land in America’s Western Arctic

April 19, 2024

Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Representative Jared Huffman (CA-02) and Rosemary Ahtuangaruak, Founder of Grandmothers Growing Goodness and Former Mayor of Nuiqsut, host a virtual press conference to respond to the Department of the Interior’s (DOI) decision regarding their protections for designated Special Areas in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. Speakers discussed the action’s potential to protect the Western Arctic’s indigenous communities from new oil and gas drilling and safeguard the food security, cultural traditions, and health of these vulnerable communities.

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Click here to view a recording of the press event

Following significant engagement with the public, Alaska Native Tribes, and Alaska Native Corporations, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) finalized the Management and Protection of the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska (NPR-A) rule that will ensure maximum protection for significant resource values on the more than 13 million acres of Special Areas in the western Arctic, while supporting subsistence uses and needs for Alaska Native communities. The BLM is also announcing that it will publish a Request for Information in the coming weeks to solicit public comment on whether to consider adding resource values to existing Special Areas, expanding Special Areas, or creating new Special Areas within the NPR-A.

Management and Protection of the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska Rule

Under the Naval Petroleum Reserves Production Act (NPRPA) of 1976, as amended, Congress directed the BLM to balance oil and gas development with the management and protection of significant resource values in locations known as Special Areas and mitigate impacts of oil and gas activities on surface resources across the reserve. The final rule updates the existing regulatory framework, adopted more than 40 years ago, allowing the BLM to more effectively respond to changing conditions in the NPR-A, while striking a balance between oil and gas development and the management and protection of surface values, including wildlife habitat vital to subsistence.

Extending from the northwest slope of the Brooks Range to the Arctic Coast, the NPR-A encompasses roughly 23 million acres of public land managed by the BLM. Tribal Nations have occupied lands now within the NPR-A since time immemorial, and more than 40 Indigenous communities continue to rely on the resources from the Reserve for subsistence, harvesting caribou, shore and waterbirds, and many other fish and wildlife species. Many communities subsist primarily on food that, in turn, relies on the Special Areas of the NPR-A. Natural conditions in the Arctic are changing rapidly due to climate change, which is affecting caribou movement and herd health, causing degradation of permafrost, and altering habitats for wildlife, migratory birds, and native plants throughout the NPR-A.

The final rule codifies protections for 13.3 million acres encompassed by the existing Special Areas, limiting future oil and gas leasing and industrial development in the Teshekpuk Lake, Utukok Uplands, Colville River, Kasegaluk Lagoon, and Peard Bay Special Areas – places collectively known for their globally significant intact habitat for wildlife, including grizzly and polar bears, caribou and hundreds of thousands of migratory birds. The rule also codifies existing prohibitions on new leasing in 10.6 million acres, more than 40 percent of the NPR-A, consistent with the current NPR-A Integrated Activity Plan (IAP).

Congressman Jared Huffman’s Remarks

Thank you, Abby. And hello, everyone. I am Congressman Jared Huffman from the beautiful north coast of California.

For those who follow my work in the Congress, you know that I spend a lot of my time working to protect Alaska's wilderness or the people and wildlife that call it home. I want to issue a big thank you to LCV, to Arc Initiatives and everybody joining the call today to talk about this really great news with the unbelievable chaos that Team Extreme, the Republican conference in the House is causing with their limited time in the majority.

It sure is nice to be able to celebrate something positive, something meaningful like this in an otherwise dysfunctional Congress. I am a climate hawk, and so what that means is I want to take bold climate action at every opportunity. I'm never going to really be fully satisfied until we get the atmosphere stabilized so that future generations can live on this planet.

I won't live to see that. But I want to do as much as I can to put us on that path. And I think we need to give a lot of credit to the Biden administration, the Biden-Harris administration, for the historic climate action that they have made, the progress they made over the past three plus years. Democrats have been working to take actions that previously were unthinkable just a few short years ago when Republicans were screaming from the rooftops that climate change wasn't even real, that we should just drill, baby, drill.

I want everyone to really appreciate how big this latest rulemaking from the Department of Interior is. 13 million acres of the Western Arctic now protected. That is record breaking. It is a huge step forward in our ongoing climate and conservation efforts. Not only does it codify existing prohibitions on new leasing in more than 40% of the NPR-A, but it provides greater clarity guidelines to ensure that development protects vital resources for subsistence while honoring existing rights.

That's going to help BLM effectively fulfill its obligation to tribal nations. It's hard to find adequate words to describe how special and pristine this place is that we're talking about. The Western Arctic is ground zero for climate change. Every inch of land, water, permafrost holds on to carbon. And so, letting the fossil fuel industry desecrate this place for their dirty energy agenda would wreak absolute havoc on wildlife, native communities, and our climate.

These Big Oil barons have tried to find, tried to claim every ounce of oil and gas in the Arctic, regardless of the consequences to our planet and those who live on this land or near this land. And this role is an important step for us to say no, finally, to say no to them, no more plundering our public lands, no more destroying indigenous people's way of life by wringing dry the ecosystems they've relied on since time immemorial.

There is still a lot more work that we need to do to protect more of the Western Arctic and to create more permanent protections in other pristine places. We need to continue to put People over Polluters when we make these decisions. But we're fighting back at every turn to protect the Arctic, and we're going to keep doing that.

We're going to continue to build on this great progress. And we are making great strides here. So, this is a moment to celebrate and appreciate for sure. More to come. Thank you.