Legislation Would Provide Permanent Protection to Unique and Vulnerable Habitat, Safeguard Subsistence Rights of Arctic Indigenous Peoples
Washington, D.C. – Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, U.S. Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), and Tom Carper (D-Del.), U.S. Representative Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), and a group of their colleagues reintroduced the Arctic Refuge Protection Act. This legislation would restore protections to the Arctic Refuge Coastal Plain and prevent oil and gas exploration and development activities from taking place in one of our nation’s greatest treasures. It would also protect the region by designating the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as wilderness, while also safeguarding the subsistence rights of the Arctic Indigenous Peoples. President Joe Biden signed an executive order on his first day in office placing a temporary moratorium on oil and gas activity in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, as well as an executive order prioritizing Tribal sovereignty and self-governance in use, management, and conservation of public lands.
“The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is an iconic and priceless American landscape that we must pass down to future generations,” said Bennet. “Coloradans take our uniquely American responsibility to protect our public lands seriously. After four years of the Trump Administration playing politics with the Refuge, it’s time that we restore the bipartisan consensus to protect this sacred land. This bill will recognize and protect the Coastal Plain of the Arctic Refuge as the wilderness it is, safeguarding vital wildlife habitat.”
Bennet first introduced legislation to protect the Refuge in 2015 and has since sponsored the bill in 2017 and 2019. In December, Bennet joined his colleagues in expressing strong opposition to the January 6 Arctic Refuge oil and gas lease sale. In February 2020, Bennet joined his colleagues in writing to 11 of the largest U.S. banks asking them to update their environmental and climate policies to include a prohibition on funding for oil and gas drilling or exploration in the Refuge. In January 2019, Bennet urged U.S. Department of the Interior Acting Secretary David Bernhardt to extend the public comment period on a proposal to lease oil and gas in the Refuge. In 2017, Bennet, Markey, and Cantwell filed an amendment to protect the Refuge from new drilling leases in Senate budget legislation. Bennet also called for removal of any language in the Senate Republicans’ 2017 tax bill that would allow for drilling in the Refuge.
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is the largest unit in the National Wildlife Refuge System and one of the nation’s most treasured areas. In 1960, President Dwight Eisenhower established the original refuge, which comprised 8.9 million acres, as the Arctic National Wildlife Range. It was later expanded in 1980 to its current 19.6 million acres and renamed the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The 1.56 million-acre Coastal Plain, the biological heart of the Refuge, supports more than 250 species, including caribou, polar bears, grizzly bears, wolves, muskoxen, wolverines, and migratory birds it is also the sacred home of the Gwich’in Nation, who are linked to the Porcupine Caribou herd of the Refuge through their food system, shared environment, and long-standing culture.
In addition to Bennet, Markey, Cantwell, and Carper, this legislation is cosponsored by Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Senator Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
In addition to Huffman, companion legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives is cosponsored by U.S. Representatives Andy Levin (D-Mich.), Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Bobby Scott (D-Va.), Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.), Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.), Julia Brownley (D-Calif.), Salud Carbajal (D-Calif.), Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.), Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.), Jesus "Chuy" García (D-Ill.), Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), Jason Crow (D-Colo.), Madeleine Dean (D-Pa.), Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.), Val Demings (D-Fla.), Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.), Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.), Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Ariz.), Jim Langevin (D-R.I.), Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.), Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), Mike Levin (D-Calif.), Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.), Grace Napolitano (D-Calif.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Jimmy Panetta (D-Calif.), Chellie Pingree (D-Maine), Deborah Ross (D-N.C.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), Lori Trahan (D-Mass.), Juan Vargas (D-Calif.), Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.), Peter Welch (D-Vt.), John Yarmuth (D-Ky.), and Rick Larsen (D-Wash.).
The bill text is available HERE.
"On behalf of the Gwich'in Nation, we thank our congressional leaders for listening to the voice of the Indigenous people,”said Bernadette Demientieff, executive director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee. “We have fought hard to protect these lands and the Porcupine caribou herd, trusting the guidance of our ancestors and elders. It is important for our young people to see honorable and humble people in leadership respecting our human rights and Indigenous voices and to know we are being heard. The Gwich'in have a spiritual and cultural connection to the Porcupine caribou that spans thousands of years. Our way of life, our survival is interconnected to the land, water and animals. So today we say Mashi’ choo Shalak naii (thank you very much my relatives) and to all who stand with the Gwich'in Nation."
“This is one of the last truly wild places on earth, supporting migrating caribou, denning polar bears, and an abundance of songbirds, shorebirds and other waterfowl. It was simply wrong to ever consider drilling for oil in such a spectacular ecosystem,” said Tracy Stone-Manning, associate vice president for public lands at the National Wildlife Federation.“This legislation will restore protections that are so desperately needed for both the wildlife and the Indigenous communities that depend on this land for survival.”
“The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has been targeted for decades for its potential oil and gas deposits, and it is time for this land to be protected in perpetuity,” said Geoffrey L. Haskett, President of the National Wildlife Refuge Association and former Alaska Regional Director for the the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “These bills will permanently protect the Arctic NWR, home to a rich biodiversity of native wildlife and incredibly vulnerable to a changing climate. We look forward to working with the House and Senate to ensure final passage of these bills and restore protections to this remarkable landscape and the caribou, bears, and migratory birds that call it home."
“The coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is the calving ground of the Porcupine Caribou Herd and the densest onshore polar bear denning habitat in all of America’s Arctic. Its importance will only increase as a result of the climate crisis. We are grateful to the sponsors of this legislation for taking such a vital step toward restoring protections for the refuge and ensuring the survival of Indigenous Gwich’in and Iñupiat communities that have stewarded these lands for millennia. We cannot wait one minute longer to protect this sacred place from drilling,” said Karlin Itchoak, Alaska State Director at The Wilderness Society.