Sixteen AGs Object to Trump Administration Plan for Oil & Gas Drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

The Department of Interior’s rushed environmental analysis fails to consider serious and irreparable harms from an oil and gas program that will not yield promised benefits.

BLM’s proposed leading program will lead to “grave, long-lasting, and irremediable environmental harm” for the critical Coastal Plain ecosystem. 


March 14, 2019
Contact: Christopher Gray

Washington, D.C. — A multi-state coalition of 16 state attorneys general led by Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey submitted comments yesterday objecting to a draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) put forward by the Trump administration minimizing the environmental and climate risks of a proposed oil and gas program in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The coalition also contends that the administration is vastly overstating the economic benefits that may result from such a program.

The proposed program identified by the Interior Department is in response to a directive in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 meant to generate revenues of $2.2 billion, half of which would be returned to the federal government. In their comments, the AGs identify a range of deficiencies with the DEIS analyzing this new program, including the failure to sufficiently analyze whether the program contemplated by Interior would yield the expected revenues.

As the AGs note, because the DEIS fails to account for projected energy market conditions, fails to acknowledge the high cost of development in the Coastal Plain, and omits any analysis of the multiple factors that will likely depress future U.S. oil demand and prices, any leased areas in the Coastal Plain are unlikely to be economically viable and will fail to yield the promised revenues for the American people. “By not analyzing the limited revenue potential of the program, BLM fails to allow public scrutiny of the need and economic benefits of the proposed Leasing Program balanced against the grave, long-lasting, and irremediable environmental harm it would cause to the fragile Coastal Plain ecosystem.”

In addition to the lack of meaningful economic analysis provided, the DEIS fails to consider alternatives that would minimize environmental harm within the Coastal Plain – a place often described as “America’s Serengeti.” As the AGs demonstrate, the DEIS provides woefully insufficient detail about the potential impacts to migratory birds and other species, fails to identify an alternative that would limit development to the minimum acreage specified by Congress, and conveniently overcomes the statutory 2,000-acre surface development limit by disingenuously characterizing pipelines, gravel mines and other infrastructure as not having surface impacts.

The AGs also raise grave concerns about the insufficient analysis of greenhouse gas emissions and associated climate change impacts in the DEIS – a fatal flaw under the agency’s National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) obligations. The DEIS assumes – without support – that over 96 percent oil and gas produced from the Coastal Plain will replace the exact amount of oil and gas elsewhere and, as a result, significantly downplays the program’s greenhouse gas emissions. Additionally, despite quantifying a range of benefits associated with the proposed program, such as jobs and possible revenue, the AGs note that the DEIS wholly fails to quantify the costs associated with the greenhouse gas emissions that will result – an unreasonable and arbitrary approach to environmental analysis that is not permitted by NEPA.  

“In its haste to issue oil leases, the Trump administration has failed to take the legally-required ‘hard look’ at the severe environmental impacts of industrializing the Coastal Plain – the biological heart of the Arctic Refuge,” said David J. Hayes, Executive Director of the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center. “The administration has compounded these errors by ignoring Congress’s direction to limit development in the Refuge to 2,000 acres, and by failing to develop a comprehensive oil and gas program that, by necessity, must evaluate all aspects of a multi-year developmental program. This includes the economic impacts and environmental harms associated with testing, drilling, processing and transporting oil from scattered sites throughout the entirety of the 1.5 million-acre Coastal Plain.”

In addition to Washington and Massachusetts, attorneys general of Delaware, Oregon, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Washington, D.C. also joined the multi-state coalition.

The State Energy & Environmental Impact Center is a non-partisan Center at the NYU School of Law that is dedicated to working with state attorneys general to protect and advance clean energy, climate change, and environmental values and protections. It was launched in August 2017 with support from Bloomberg Philanthropies. For more information, visit our website.