Arctic Refuge Protection Act would protect Coastal Plain from oil and gas development

Bill Text (PDF)

 Washington (February 1, 2023) – Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Representatives Jared Huffman (CA-02) and Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-01) today reintroduced their Arctic Refuge Protection Act, legislation that will restore critical protections to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge—home to the Gwich’in people and the nation’s largest national wildlife refuge—by designating the Coastal Plain ecosystem as wilderness under the National Wilderness Preservation System. This legislation would permanently halt any new oil and gas leasing, exploration, development, and drilling on the Coastal Plain, and would safeguard the subsistence rights of the Arctic Indigenous Peoples who depend upon the unique ecosystem within the Arctic Refuge. It would enshrine the protections sought by President Biden on his first day in office, which were reaffirmed last June when the Administration temporarily suspended drilling lease sales in the Arctic Refuge. Despite these executive actions, the Coastal Plain ecosystem remains at risk due to oil and gas lease sales mandated by the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, signed into law by then-President Trump.

“The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is a national treasure and a cultural and spiritual home for Arctic Indigenous peoples. The traditional relationship that the Gwich’in and Inupiat have had with the Refuge for generations, as well as the singular ecosystem on the Coastal Plain, should not be put into harm’s way because of old failed promises of a fictional financial windfall,” said Senator Markey. “We need a law on the books that will affirm these lands are not for sale, preserve the wilderness of the Coastal Plain, and uphold the sovereignty of Arctic Indigenous peoples—who must be consulted regarding the use, management, and conservation of the Coastal Plain”

“The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is one of the largest and most pristine intact wildlife habitats on the planet, and its million-year-old ecosystem must be preserved for future generations,” Senator Cantwell said. “The future of the Arctic is in tourism, and with new sea routes opening up the real value of this land is conservation, not exploitation.” 

“Coloradans and Westerners understand the value of protecting our wildlands and waters for our communities and our economy. Opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for drilling in 2017 was a short-sighted mistake that upended forty years of bipartisan consensus to protect land sacred to the Gwich’in Nation,” said Senator Bennet. “As temperatures in the arctic rise twice as fast as the global average, now is the time to safeguard our public lands for future generations, and provide more protection to sensitive landscapes and vital habitats like those in the Arctic Refuge, not less.”

“I’ve been to the Arctic Refuge and have seen this incredible wild landscape firsthand. This is no place for industrial drilling, which would irreparably harm polar bears, the Porcupine caribou herd, and the Gwich’in people. We don’t drill in National Parks and we sure as hell shouldn’t be drilling in National Wildlife Refuges. I thank the Biden administration for suspending oil and gas leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, but now it’s time for Congress to act to end this threat once and for all. That’s why I’m proud to join my colleagues to introduce this legislation so that we can permanently protect the Arctic Refuge coastal plain and support the Indigenous people who have resided there for generations,” said Senator Heinrich.

“The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is one of the last true wild places left in America, the source of the Gwich’in people’s way of life for generations, and home to rare and threatened wildlife. If we’re going to protect our environment and combat climate change with the seriousness it demands, we must stop opening our treasured ecosystems to be plundered by Big Oil,” said Congressman Huffman. “For years, we worked against the former Trump administration every step of the way in their rushed and thoughtless attacks on the Arctic Refuge – and now, we thankfully have an administration that is taking climate change and conservation seriously. We should take this opportunity to pass our bill and restore protections for the Arctic Refuge, ensuring that oil activities are never allowed in this iconic wilderness.” 

“The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is pristine land deserving of protection and critical to our nation’s environmental landscape,” said Congressman Fitzpatrick. “This bipartisan legislation will ensure that we protect this ecosystem and that it continues to be passed down to future generations. I am proud to defend our public lands and to be leading this effort.”

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 9,000-strong Gwich’in Nation, living in Alaska and Canada, 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.

Senators Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Ben Ray Lujan (D-N.M.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Peter Welch (D-Vt.), and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Representatives Nanette Barragán (CA-44), Donald Beyer (VA-08), Suzanne Bonamici (OR-01), Brendan Boyle (PA-02), Julia Brownley (CA-26), Judy Chu (CA-27), Gerald Connolly (VA-11), Sharice Davids (KS-03), Suzan DelBene (WA-01), Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11), Dwight Evans (PA-03), Bill Foster (IL-11), Raúl Grijalva (AZ-03), Sara Jacobs (CA-53), Pramila Jayapal (WA-07), Ro Khanna (CA-17), Raja Krishnamorthi (IL-08), Rick Larsen (WA-02), Barbara Lee (CA-13), Mike Levin (CA-49), Doris Matsui (CA-06), Betty McCollum (MN-04), James McGovern (MA-02), Grace Meng (NY-06), Jerrold Nadler (NY-10), Joe Neguse (CA-02), Ilhan Omar (MN-05), Mark Pocan (WI-02), Katie Porter (CA-45), Jamie Raskin (MD-08) Adam Schiff (CA-30), Bobby Scott (VA-03), Adam Smith (WA-09), Melanie Stansbury (NM-01), Eric Swalwell (CA-15), Mark Takano (CA-39), and Jill Tokuda (HI-02) are co-sponsors.

The Arctic Refuge Protection Act is endorsed by the Alaska Wilderness League, League of Conservation Voters, Defenders of Wildlife, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, The Wilderness Society, Environment America Public Lands, Natural Resources Defense Council, The Sierra Club, and Backcountry Hunters & Anglers.

“We applaud our congressional champions for upholding the tradition of strong support for the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. This bill would ensure that one of the most beloved pieces of our natural heritage will be protected now and for future generations of Americans. The Refuge Coastal Plain is central to the way of life and sacred cultural beliefs for the Gwich'in and Iñupiat Peoples. It’s vital that Congress honor this cultural heritage and prioritize climate, by restoring protections to the Arctic Refuge and ending the threat of oil, once and for all,” said Kristen Miller, Executive Director,  Alaska Wilderness League.

“Permanently protecting the Arctic Refuge is a human rights issue. Congress must urgently pass the Arctic Refuge Protection Act to prevent long-lasting harm to the Indigenous communities who depend on it,” said America Fitzpatrick, Conservation Program Director, League of Conservation Voters. “We thank Representatives Huffman and Fitzpatrick and Senators Markey, Cantwell, and Heinrich for their leadership. and we stand with the Gwich’in and Iñupiat communities fighting to protect the lands they have stewarded for generations.”

“Thanks to Sen. Markey for championing legislation to protect the coastal plain of Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and to upend the destructive leasing program mandated under the 2017 tax bill. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is vital to the way of life for the Gwich’in, supports unique and biodiverse ecosystems and is widely supported by the American people. It richly deserves permanent protection as one of our most iconic refuges.  Senator Markey’s legislation gives us hope for a new path forward,” said Robert Dewey, Vice President for Government Relations, Defenders of Wildlife. 

“We are deeply grateful to Sen. Markey and Rep. Huffman for this legislation that recognizes not only the importance of protecting wildlife and public land, but also shows respect and concern for the Indigenous Peoples who live in and near the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge,” said Karlin Itchoak, Alaska regional director, The Wilderness Society. “The coastal plain of the refuge is sacred to the Gwich’in Nation, and the Iñupiat people have stewarded this land since time immemorial. Protecting the coastal plain from oil drilling is essential to their cultures, food security and ways of life, as well as to the global climate.”

“The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is one of the crown jewels of our public lands and to keep it that way, we must keep oil drills away. This important bill will provide necessary protections for the refuge. We thank these Congressional champions for prioritizing the habitat of caribou, polar bears and birds over the long-term damage in the name of short-term profits that opening this space up to drilling would cause,” said Ellen Montgomery, Campaign Director, Environment America Public Lands. 

“This is a place of supreme importance to the Gwich’in and other Indigenous people who depend on its natural values.  And it is a sanctuary for caribou, musk oxen, polar bears, wolves, and other wildlife.  These bills would end an ongoing threat to this treasured place by forever barring industrialization of the Refuge,” said Garett Rose, Senior Attorney for the Alaska Project, Natural Resources Defense Council.

“The coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge is one of the country's most iconic landscapes. Its 1.5 million acres of pristine wilderness are central to the culture of the Gwich’in people and home to vital species including the polar bear, caribou, and wolverine. Preserving it is a matter of not just the human rights of the Gwich’in, but to securing a sustainable climate future. President Biden took an essential first step with his executive order to safeguard this treasured place from the destruction of fossil fuel extraction, and we thank Sen. Markey and Rep. Huffman for working to permanently protect one of the country's few remaining intact ecosystems,” said Athan Manuel, Lands Protection Program Director, the Sierra Club.

“Hunters and anglers applaud the reintroduction of the Arctic Refuge Protection Act and thank Reps. Huffman and Fitzpatrick and Sen. Markey for their leadership,” said John Gale, Vice President of Policy and Government Relations for Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. “The 1.5-million-acre coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is one of the last truly wild places in North America and deserving of wilderness designation. Development here threatens the migration of the Porcupine caribou herd, braided rivers holding fish species like Dolly Varden and Arctic char, and a spectacular wetland ecosystem that provides summer nesting grounds for waterfowl that visit every corner of the United States.”