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January 22, 2020
Contact: Tom Lalley

Twelve State Attorneys General Object to BLM’s Proposal to Expand Drilling in Alaskan Reserve

Trump administration’s plan threatens millions of currently-protected acres in the nation’s largest single block of undisturbed public land.

Washington, D.C. — State attorneys general, led by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, submitted comments yesterday sharply criticizing the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) draft Environmental Impact Statement(EIS) and draft Integrated Activity Plan (IAP) for the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. If adopted, the plan could open an additional 6.6 million acres of the reserve — an area nearly the size of Massachusetts — to new oil and gas leasing. The expansion would include crucial wildlife habitat that BLM designated off-limits to leasing less than seven years ago. In addition, the resulting oil and gas development could lead to downstream emissions increases equivalent to up to one billion tons of carbon pollution, according to BLM’s own estimate. 
Larger than Indiana, the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska was established in 1923 as a source for oil for the U.S. Navy. Despite having “petroleum” in its name, some of the most valuable fish and wildlife habitat in the Arctic Coastal Plain is found within the reserve. This includes the biologically rich Teshekpuk Lake region and parts of the Utukok River Uplands, which are home to a wide array of wildlife, including polar bears, migratory birds, wolves, grizzly bears and caribou.
“The Trump Administration’s attempted land grab in Alaska would needlessly sacrifice our treasured wildlife and public lands. BLM has a responsibility to maintain these lands, not defile and destroy them for the sake of a quick buck,” said California Attorney General Xavier Becerra. “We have been entrusted to protect these lands for future generations. We won’t let the Trump Administration’s short-sighted policy agenda get in our way.”
The AGs’ comments highlight a number of key legal defects in the draft EIS, including:

  • Violating the Naval Petroleum Reserves Production Act’s governing mandate to “assure the maximum protection” of the reserve’s fish, wildlife and habitat during petroleum exploration and development.  
  • Violating the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by failing to:
    • Rationally analyze the impacts of expanded leasing on migratory birds;
    • Analyze and disclose the cumulative impacts of new leasing in the reserve with the impacts of BLM’s proposed leasing program in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge; and,
    • Fully analyze the draft plan’s potential climate impacts.

In their comments, the AGs point to specific protections in the Naval Petroleum Reserves Production Act for the Teshekpuk Lake wetlands complex, as well as protections in BLM’s 2013 Integrated Activity Plan, which was completed after years of extensive research and broad public involvement and prohibits leasing on ecologically sensitive parts of the reserve that the Trump administration is now proposing to open. The AGs note that the draft EIS “fails to provide any explanation or justification” for the expansion of leasing into these areas, which is a glaring omission since “the facts underlying BLM’s 2013 Record of Decision have not changed.” “If anything,” the AGs say, “conditions are worse now for the Reserve’s wildlife than they were in 2013” as the result of the intensifying impacts of climate change.
The AGs also point out that the Trump administration’s own Fish and Wildlife Service supports “full protection” of the reserve’s sensitive lands as “necessary to sustain the biodiversity and ecologic integrity of the North Slope/coastal plain, especially given the likely impacts of climate change and increased coastal erosion.” The AGs emphasize that “it is unlawful for BLM to move forward with its proposed leasing expansion when the expert agencies charged with protecting the nation’s sensitive wildlife have urged BLM to turn back.”
The AGs say that the draft EIS also violates NEPA by inadequately accounting for the proposal’s impacts on migratory birds, including climate impacts. The AGs call attention to BLM’s “unduly optimistic description[s] of climate impacts” in the draft EIS, which they note are contradicted by the EIS that BLM prepared for its proposed leasing program in the nearby Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The Arctic Refuge EIS states that climate change effects “combined with development-related impacts across the ranges of many bird species may result in extinction within the next 85 years.” The AGs also note that the draft EIS presents an “incomplete and arbitrary” analysis of broader and cumulative climate impacts, which include the economic and social impacts of increased greenhouse gas emissions that would occur under the draft plan.
The attorneys general of Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Vermont and Washington joined California in submitting the comments.


About the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center
The State Energy & Environmental Impact Center (State Impact Center) is a non-partisan Center at the NYU School of Law that is dedicated to helping state attorneys general fight against regulatory rollbacks and advocate for 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