Following the approval of the new Arctic drilling at the Willow Project, the lawmakers encourage the Administration to permanently protect Arctic special areas and require the consideration of climate and ecological effects for fossil fuel leases 

Letter Text (PDF)

Washington (October 26, 2023) – Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Clean Air, Climate, and Nuclear Safety; Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation; and Congressman Jared Huffman (CA-02) led 52 of their colleagues today in a letter to President Joe Biden urging his administration to establish the strongest possible protections for America’s Arctic. On September 6, 2023, President Biden took action to cancel unlawful leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (Refuge) to strengthen environmental reviews of the oil and gas leasing program passed in the 2017 Republican reconciliation bill, and to expand protections for more than 13 million acres of land in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (Reserve). In their letter, the lawmakers echoed their support for these steps while calling for the Biden administration to consider climate and ecological impacts from leasing in the Refuge and safeguard the Reserve from any new fossil fuel developments.

Oil projects in the Reserve could be three to five times bigger than Willow. On President Biden’s first day, his administration directed a review of the Refuge’s oil and gas leasing program, and uncovered numerous legal errors in the justifying documents produced by the Trump administration. According to the International Energy Agency, there should be no new investments in fossil fuel supply projects to successfully achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and meet Paris climate goals.

Cosigners include Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Peter Welch (D-Vt.), and Representatives Nanette Barragán (CA-44), Earl Blumenauer (OR-03), Jamaal Bowman (NY-16), Julia Brownley (CA-26), Ed Case (HI-01), Sean Casten (IL-06), Kathy Castor (FL-14), Yvette Clarke (NY-09), Emanuel Cleaver (MO-05), Steve Cohen (TN-09), Diana DeGette (CO-01), Mark DeSaulnier (CA-10), Debbie Dingell (MI-06), Adriano Espaillat (NY-13), Dwight Evans (PA-03), Raúl Grivalja (AZ-07), Val Hoyle (OR-04), Jared Huffman (CA-02), Sara Jacobs (CA-51), Henry Johnson (GA- 04), Sydney Kamlager-Dove (CA-37), Ro Khanna (CA-17), Barbara Lee (CA-12), Summer Lee (PA-12), Mike Levin (CA-49), Ted Lieu (CA-36), Zoe Lofgren (CA-18), Seth Magaziner (RI-02), Jennifer McClellan (VA-04), Betty McCollum (MN-04), Jim McGovern (MA-02), Kevin Mullin (CA-15), Jerrold Nadler (NY-12), Grace Napolitano (CA-31), Joe Neguse (CO-02), Eleanor Norton (DC), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14), Chellie Pingree (ME-01), Katie Porter (CA-47), Jamie Raskin (MD-08), Deborah Ross (NC-02), Jan Schakowsky (IL-09), Adam Smith (WA-09), David Trone (MD-06), and Juan Vargas (CA-52).

In their letter to the Biden administration, the lawmakers wrote, “America’s Arctic is a place like none other in our nation. Providing meaningful and enduring protections to these iconic public lands will ensure these irreplaceable landscapes remain critical carbon sinks, premiere tourist destinations, unparalleled wildlife habitat, and a place where Indigenous traditions can continue for generations to come.”

The lawmakers continued, “We support your strengthened environmental review of the congressionally mandated oil and gas leasing program in the Refuge, including the release of the draft supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS) and canceling the unlawful Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority leases. As outlined in your recent announcement, oil and gas development on the fragile Coastal Plain would threaten sensitive species and the Gwich’in people’s way of life. In the final SEIS and decision, we urge you to include considerations of the climate and ecological impacts from leasing in the Refuge and adopt the strongest possible protections for these exceptional public lands.” 

The letter is supported by Alaska Wilderness League, League of Conservation Voters, Earthjustice, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, and the Wilderness Society.

In February, Senators Markey, Cantwell, Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), along with Representatives Huffman and Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-01), reintroduced the Arctic Refuge Protection Act, bipartisan legislation to restore critical protections to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge by designating the Coastal Plain ecosystem as wilderness under the National Wilderness Preservation System. In March, Senator Markey and Representative Grijalva led a letter to President Biden that asked his administration to reject the Willow Master Development Plan. In December 2020, Senator Markey and Representative Huffman led 29 Senate and 79 House members in a letter opposing the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge oil and gas lease sale scheduled for January 6, 2021.