WASHINGTON, D.C. ― U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Michael F. Bennet (D-Colo.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.), wrote to U.S. Department of the Interior Acting Secretary David Bernhardt urging him to extend the public comment period for a draft Environmental Impact Statement on potential oil and gas development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
The letter follows the Trump administration’s decision to rush through the environmental review process in an attempt to rapidly begin exploration without fully considering the devastating impacts that drilling would have on the Refuge.
In their letter, the senators call on the Interior Department to lengthen the amount of time provided for the review process to allow for meaningful public engagement and input on this monumental decision. “We are writing to request that you lengthen the public comment period for the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the Coastal Plain Oil and Gas Leasing Program in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (Refuge) from 45 days to 120 days,” the senators wrote to Bernhardt. “The Department of the Interior should extend the comment period due to the extreme sensitivity of the resources affected by leasing, the great complexity of the analysis, the overlapping public comment periods for other actions taking place in the Refuge and the continued government shutdown.”
“The Refuge is one of the last truly wild places on Earth,” the senators continued. “Much of its wildlife is as sensitive and imperiled as it is iconic. Disturbing the Refuge poses an existential threat to traditional Gwich’in culture and raises human rights concerns. Climate change is affecting the entire ecosystem, including the melting of the permafrost. With all this in mind, Congress ensured our fundamental environmental laws remained in place to protect the Coastal Plain and preserve the existing protective statutory purposes of the Refuge.” The senators also expressed their concern that “public involvement and access to agency documents and staff was constrained by release of the DEIS immediately prior to the holiday season, followed by the Bureau of Land Management website going offline during the ongoing government shutdown.”
The senators concluded, “There is no legitimate reason for ignoring these circumstances and rushing through this vital public review… Former Secretary Zinke said, ‘Without question, our public lands are America’s treasure.’ We agree and ask that you treat them as such, and give the public their right to provide informed input into their management.”