Bennet, Colleagues Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Protect the Arctic Refuge

Arctic Refuge Protection Act Would Protect Coastal Plain From Oil And Gas Development

Washington, D.C. — Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet joined U.S. Senators Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) in reintroducing the Arctic Refuge Protection Act to restore critical protections to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) by designating the Coastal Plain ecosystem as wilderness under the National Wilderness Preservation System. The ANWR is home to the Gwich’in people and the nation’s largest national wildlife refuge.

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 and 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 former President Trump.

“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 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.”

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

“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.

“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.

In addition to Bennet, Markey, Cantwell, and Heinrich, the bill is cosponsored by U.S. Senators Booker (D-N.J.), 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 U.S. Representatives Nanette Barragán (D-Calif.), Donald Beyer (D-Va.), Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.), Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.), Julia Brownley (D-Calif.), Judy Chu (D-Calif.), Gerald Connolly (D-Va.), Sharice Davids (D-Kan.), Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.), Mark DeSaulnier (D-Calif.), Dwight Evans (D-Pa.), Bill Foster (D-Ill.), Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.), Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), Raja Krishnamorthi (D-Ill.), Rick Larsen (D-Wash.), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Mike Levin (D-Calif.), Doris Matsui (D-Calif.), Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), James McGovern (D-Mass.), Grace Meng (D-N.Y.), Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Joe Neguse (D-Colo.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), Katie Porter (D-Calif.), Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), Bobby Scott (D-Wa.), Adam Smith (D-Wash.), Melanie Stansbury (D-N.M.), Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), Mark Takano (D-Calif.), and Jill Tokuda (D-Hawaii).

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.

The text of the bill is available HERE.