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Protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

The Trump administration, on August 17, 2020, finalized its plan to open up part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska to oil and gas development, a move that overturns six decades of protecting the largest remaining stretch of wilderness in the United States. 

The Interior Department has said that it had completed its required reviews and will begin to auction off drilling leases. “I do believe there could be a lease sale by the end of the year,” Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said.

The decision overturns six decades of protecting the largest remaining stretch of wilderness in the United States. 

President Trump has long said that an increase in Arctic drilling is needed in his effort to expand domestic fossil fuel production on federal lands and secure America’s “energy dominance.” Republicans have prized the refuge as a productive source of oil and gas ever since the Reagan administration first recommended drilling in 1987. However, efforts to open it up had long been prevented until 2017, when the G.O.P. used its control of both houses of Congress to pass a bill authorizing lease sales.

It remains unclear how much interest there will be from energy companies at a time when many countries are trying to wean themselves from fossil fuels and oil prices are crashing amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

The Gwich’in people, who live in the ANWR, rely heavily on the Porcupine caribou as a major source of sustenance. For them, the caribou is more than food and clothing; it defines who they are. The 197,000-strong Porcupine caribou herd migrates throughout the refuge and northwestern Canada. 

The caribou is more than food and clothing; it defines who they are.

The coastal plain, the birthing grounds of the caribou, are precisely the area slated for proposed oil drilling. The National Academy of Sciences concluded that oil development would harm wildlife and habitats, and the Porcupine caribou herd is vulnerable to human-caused and natural stresses. With the threats of oil development in their calving grounds, it is virtually certain the size of the herd would be gravely diminished, effectively ending the Gwich’in way of life. 

The region’s fate may ultimately hinge on the results of the election. Joe Biden, has called for permanent protection of the refuge. However, even if he were to win the White House, it could be hard for his administration to overturn existing lease rights once they have been auctioned to energy companies.

Opponents of drilling say that opening the refuge to development would be a step backward in an era when the world should be burning less oil in order to avoid drastic global warming. 

Under pressure from environmental groups, many in the religious community, and the Gwich’in, several major banks, including Morgan Stanley, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, J P Morgan, Chase, and Citigroup have said they would not directly finance any oil and gas drilling in the Arctic.

New sources of fossil fuels are not needed 

The one major bank which still makes loans for drilling in this pristine wilderness is Bank of America, headquartered in Charlotte, NC. It has refused to rule out funding for drilling in the ANWR.

The nations of the world, in the Paris Agreement, made a commitment to produce net zero emissions by 2050. New sources of fossil fuels are not needed and automobile companies are now beginning to increase their production of electric vehicles.

Sen. Susan Collins (R- ME) has in the past said, “I believe we can create an energy policy that will provide sufficient energy to meet the needs of today and of future generations without compromising America’s environmentally sensitive areas.”

“With this in mind, I have opposed efforts to open areas like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and Georges Bank off the coast of Maine to drilling,” she wrote in a letter to a constituent.

Drilling in the Arctic Refuge impacts the delicate eco-system that God created. Drilling in the Arctic Refuge not only will devastate wildlife both in Alaska and the lower 48 states, but will decimate the Gwich’in people. 

Faith communities and religious leaders have long opposed drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Our commitment to protecting the Arctic Refuge is based on our commitment to defend all of God’s creation, including the fundamental rights of the Gwich’in people to ensure both their livelihoods and their religious liberties.

Ask your representatives to support a just transition away from fossil fuels in this action alert (U.S.).

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