Rep. Huffman and Senator Markey Re-Introduce Bicameral Legislation to Protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

Legislation would provide permanent protection to unique and vulnerable habitat, safeguard subsistence rights of Arctic Indigenous Peoples

February 04, 2021

Washington, D.C. – Following the Trump administration’s last desperate effort to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas lease sales earlier this year, Congressman Jared Huffman (CA-02), Chair of the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife, and Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) today reintroduced the Arctic Refuge Protection Act, legislation to restore protections to the Arctic Refuge Coastal Plain and prevent oil and gas exploration and development activities from taking place in one of our nation’s greatest treasures. The legislation would protect the region by designating the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as wilderness under the National Wilderness Preservation System, while also safeguarding the subsistence rights of the Arctic Indigenous Peoples. President Joseph Biden signed an executive order on his first day in office placing a temporary moratorium on oil and gas activity in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, as well as an executive order prioritizing Tribal sovereignty and self-governance in use, management, and conservation of public lands. Representative Huffman was joined by Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA-01) as an original co-lead in this bipartisan legislation.

“As expected, Trump’s rushed attempt to sell of the Arctic Refuge to oil and gas interests fell short and proved to be nothing more than a bad business venture, failing to meet the lofty promises Republicans made at the expense of the American taxpayer,” said Congressman Huffman. “It’s time we put these failed special interest boondoggles behind us and reverse the damage done by the past administration. Building upon President Biden’s swift action to protect the Arctic, we must work side-by-side with the Indigenous Peoples of the coastal plain to permanently protect and manage these treasured public lands.”

“After a recent failed set of lease sales, it’s clear that Republicans’ promises of a major fiscal windfall from development on the coastal plain were really a major fiscal flop,” said Senator Markey. “The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is worthy of protection, with deep value to Arctic communities and to the nation as a whole. In tandem with efforts to safeguard the Refuge from harm, we encourage meaningful consultation with Indigenous peoples regarding the use, management, and conservation of the coastal plain.”

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge covers 19.6 million acres and is the largest unit in the National Wildlife Refuge System. The 1.56 million-acre Coastal Plain, the biological heart of the Refuge, contains the calving grounds for the Porcupine caribou herd and is home to denning polar bears, musk oxen, wolves, and more than 150 species of migratory birds. The Gwich’in Nation, living in Alaska and Canada and 9,000 strong, make their home on or near the migratory route of the Porcupine caribou herd, and have depended on this herd for their subsistence and culture for thousands of years. 

A copy of the legislation can be found here

Original cosponsors to Congressman Huffman’s measure include: Representatives Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA-01), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR-03), Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR-01), Jamal Bowman (D-NY-16), Brendan Boyle (D-PA-02), Julia Brownley (D-CA-26), Salud Carbajal (D-CA-24), Matt Cartwright (D-PA-8), Jesus "Chuy" García (D-IL-04), Steve Cohen (D-TN-09), Gerry Connolly (D-VA-11), Jason Crow (D-CO-06), Madeleine Dean (D-PA-04), Peter DeFazio (D-OR-04), Diana DeGette (D-CO-01), Suzan DelBene (D-WA-01), Val Demings (D-FL-10), Ruben Gallego (D-AZ-07), Raul Grijalva (D-AZ-03), Alcee Hastings (D-FL-20), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA-07), Mondaire Jones (D-NY-17), Ro Khanna (D-CA-17), Dan Kildee (D-MI-05), Derek Kilmer (D-WA-06), Ann Kirkpatrick (D-AZ-02), Jim Langevin (D-RI-02), Rick Larsen (D-WA-02), Alan Lowenthal (D-CA-47), Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY-14), Jim McGovern (D-MA-02), Andy Levin (D-MI-09), Mike Levin (D-CA-49), Grace Napolitano (D-CA-32), Ilhan Omar (D-MN-05), Jimmy Panetta (D-CA-20), Chellie Pingree (D-ME-01), Deborah Ross (D-NC-02), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL-09), Adam Schiff (D-CA-28), Bobby Scott (D-VA-03), Jackie Speier (D-CA-14), Lori Trahan (D-MA-03), Juan Vargas (D-CA-51), Nydia Velázquez (D-NY-07), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL-23), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ-12), Peter Welch (D-VT-At-large), and John Yarmuth (D-KY-03).

Original co-sponsors of the legislation in the Senate include Senators Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) Tom Carper (D-Del.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Senator Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

What Supporters are Saying:

"On behalf of the Gwich'in Nation, we thank our congressional leaders for listening to the voice of the Indigenous people,” said Bernadette Demientieff, executive director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee.“We have fought hard to protect these lands and the Porcupine caribou herd, trusting the guidance of our ancestors and elders. It is important for our young people to see honorable and humble people in leadership respecting our human rights and Indigenous voices and to know we are being heard. The Gwich'in have a spiritual and cultural connection to the Porcupine caribou that spans thousands of years. Our way of life, our survival is interconnected to the land, water and animals. So today we say Mashi’ choo Shalak naii (thank you very much my relatives) and to all who stand with the Gwich'in Nation."

“We applaud Reps. Jared Huffman and Brian Fitzpatrick and Senator Ed Markey for this bipartisan bill to repeal the oil leasing mandate and safeguard the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge,” said Adam Kolton, executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League. “We now know that drilling proponents’ promised bonanza from refuge drilling was a sham, unmasked by a Trump lease sale that generated less than 1% of the revenue contained in the 2017 Tax Act. Passing this measure would not only protect a national treasure but help ensure the food security and subsistence traditions of the Gwich’in and Iñupiat peoples, and prevent long-term carbon pollution at a critical juncture for addressing the climate and biodiversity crises. We look forward to working with the new Congress to enact this campaign promise and vital part of the Biden climate and conservation agenda.”

“The coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge is worth more to us as a protected place for wildlife and Indigenous ways of life, where the dominant features on the landscape are bird nests, animal trails, and free-flowing rivers,” said Natalie Dawson, executive director at Audubon Alaska. “Wilderness is not only a concept, but a dedication to our own restraint for the benefit of future generations who will need these places as unprecedented climate changes bring new threats.”

“Thanks to congressional leaders Rep. Huffman (D-CA), Rep. Fitzpatrick (R-PA) and Sen. Markey (D-MA) for introducing legislation to protect the coastal plain of Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and to upend the destructive leasing program mandated under the 2017 tax bill. Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is vital to the way of life for the Gwich’in, home to imperiled polar bears and migratory birds, and its protection is strongly supported by the American people. It richly deserves permanent protection as one of our most iconic refuges. Congress’ action has given us hope for a new path forward,” Robert Dewey, vice president for government relations, Defenders of Wildlife.

“The Arctic Refuge Protection Act is critical for providing justice to the Gwich’in people and defending their way of life, combatting climate change and safeguarding one of greatest wild places left on earth,” said Marty Hayden, Vice President of Policy and Legislation, Earthjustice. 

“The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is one of the crown jewels of our public lands, and this essential bill will provide necessary protections for it. Like every American who cherishes our majestic open spaces, we embrace this long overdue act. We thank the bill’s sponsors for  prioritizing the habitat and livelihoods of the caribou, polar bears and birds who call it home over the short-term profits and irreparable damage opening this space up to fossil fuel excavation would cause.” - Environment America Public Lands Campaign Director Ellen Montgomery 

“Drilling in the pristine Arctic Refuge would violate Indigenous rights, exacerbate climate change, and shortchange taxpayers,” said Alex Taurel, Conservation Program Director at the League of Conservation Voters. “We stand in solidarity with the Gwich’in people in the fight to protect an area they call ‘the Sacred Place Where Life Begins.’ Congress and President Biden should do everything in their power to permanently protect this sacred land that is ground zero for climate change. We are thankful to the sponsors of this legislation and look forward to working with them to pass these vital protections into law.”

“This is one of the last truly wild places on earth, supporting migrating caribou, denning polar bears, and an abundance of songbirds, shorebirds and other waterfowl. It was simply wrong to ever consider drilling for oil in such a spectacular ecosystem,” said Tracy Stone-Manning, associate vice president for public lands at the National Wildlife Federation. “This legislation will restore protections that are so desperately needed for both the wildlife and the Indigenous communities that depend on this land for survival.”

“The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has been targeted for decades for its potential oil and gas deposits, and it is time for this land to be protected in perpetuity,” said Geoffrey L. Haskett, President of the National Wildlife Refuge Association and former Alaska Regional Director for the the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “These bills will permanently protect the Arctic NWR, home to a rich biodiversity of native wildlife and incredibly vulnerable to a changing climate. We look forward to working with the House and Senate to ensure final passage of these bills and restore protections to this remarkable landscape and the caribou, bears, and migratory birds that call it home."

“These bills are critical to protecting the Arctic Refuge from industrialization forever.  This is a place of supreme importance to the Gwich’in and other Indigenous people who depend on its natural values. One of America’s last, best places, the Arctic Refuge is a sanctuary for caribou, musk oxen, polar bears, wolves, and other wildlife.  These measures recognize—and neutralize—the unacceptable threat that the 2017 tax bill posed to this ecological crown jewel.” - Garett Rose, Staff Attorney, Alaska Project, Natural Resources Defense Council

"We're grateful that Congress will have the opportunity to enact permanent protection for the coastal plain," says Emily Sullivan, Arctic Program coordinator at the Northern Alaska Environmental Center. "Alaska's lands and waters should not be treated as political capital, and we are committed to working with legislators for long term solutions that honor the generations of stewardship by Alaska Native people."  

"The days of threatening Indigenous rights to industrialize one of America's last wild places and exacerbate the climate crisis are over," said Sierra Club Executive Director Mike Brune. "The Sierra Club proudly supports our congressional champions for again making this abundantly clear and working to permanently protect the Arctic Refuge."

“The coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is the calving ground of the Porcupine Caribou Herd and the densest onshore polar bear denning habitat in all of America’s Arctic. Its importance will only increase as a result of the climate crisis. We are grateful to the sponsors of this legislation for taking such a vital step toward restoring protections for the refuge and ensuring the survival of Indigenous Gwich’in and Iñupiat communities that have stewarded these lands for millennia. We cannot wait one minute longer to protect this sacred place from drilling.” Karlin Itchoak, Alaska State Director, The Wilderness Society

“We unequivocally support the permanent protection of the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge,” said Vicki Clark, executive director at Trustees for Alaska. “At a time where action is needed on climate, racial justice, and public health, these bills take the essential step toward upholding the human rights and ways of life of the Gwich’in Peoples of Alaska and Canada, while stopping carbon polluting industrialization and safeguarding the health of Arctic lands, waters, animals, and communities.”

“The Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is an American treasure, and one which is recognized around the world for its biodiversity and cultural importance.  It is critical to the world’s longest land mammal migration – that of the Porcupine Caribou Herd – and it also harbors the nation’s largest onshore concentration of female polar bear dens in the US. Equally important is the special cultural value Gwich’in indigenous people and others who have relied on this land for thousands of years, for food, and spiritual needs. Now is the time to designate the Refuge as wilderness to protect it from oil and gas development.” - Margaret Williams, Managing Director, Arctic Program, World Wildlife Fund