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Press Release AG Healey Leads Multistate Comments Against Trump Administration’s Rush to Sell Oil and Gas Leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

AGs Previously Sued to Stop Illegal Plan to Open Up the Entire Coastal Plain to Oil and Gas Lease Sales and Drilling
For immediate release:
12/18/2020
  • Office of Attorney General Maura Healey

Media Contact for AG Healey Leads Multistate Comments Against Trump Administration’s Rush to Sell Oil and Gas Leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

Chloe Gotsis

BOSTON Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson led a coalition of 13 states in filing comments with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) opposing the Trump Administration’s reckless plan to sell oil and gas leases in the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge before President Trump leaves office, rushing the process with unprecedented haste before the scheduled public comment period has closed.

“President Trump is doing his best to leave behind a legacy of greed and destruction,” AG Healey said. “Rushing to lease the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to fossil fuel companies—days before he leaves office—would exacerbate our climate crisis and isn't even needed to meet oil and gas demand. We won’t stay silent as this administration cuts corners and forecloses meaningful public input.”

According to the comments, on November 17, 2020, BLM issued a 30-day call for nominations and comment seeking public input on what tracts of land should be offered for sale and lease conditions. But on December 7, 2020, BLM issued a notice that it would hold a sale on January 6, 2021, specifying areas to be offered, lease terms, conditions, and special stipulations, cutting short the December 17, 2020 deadline to accept all nominations and comments. The attorneys general argue that noticing a lease sale well before the close of the 30-day comment deadline has denied members of the public and industry from having their voices heard, calling the process a “sham.”

The Arctic Refuge, often referred to as “America’s Serengeti,” is home to a diverse array of wildlife that relies on its fragile ecosystem. The Refuge’s 1.56-million-acre Coastal Plain is a national treasure, unparalleled in its biological significance for hundreds of species, including caribou, polar bears, grizzly bears, wolves and migratory birds. This fragile Arctic and Coastal Plain ecosystem is particularly vulnerable to environmental stressors, including climate change, which has caused thinning sea ice and thawing of permafrost in the region. 

Congress successfully protected the region from oil and gas exploration, drilling and production for more than 40 years, until a provision in the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act opened the door for oil and gas lease sales. The Administration’s plans have for the first time exposed  the entire, unspoiled Coastal Plain to leasing, exploration, and development, which is not needed to meet the country’s demand for oil and natural gas or for U.S. energy independence. In September, AG Healey co-led a lawsuit with Washington AG Ferguson against the  Trump Administration’s illegal plan to open up the entire Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas lease sales and drilling, a move that will exacerbate the impacts of climate change on communities in Massachusetts and across the country, threaten natural resources, and devastate birds that migrate from  all lower 48 states. 

In the comments, the attorneys general argue that the Administration cannot lawfully offer any tracts for lease at this time because the Coastal Plain Oil and Gas Lease Program violates multiple federal laws and relies on a wholly deficient and unlawful environmental review.  The comments call for the lease sale on January 6, 2021 to be canceled because BLM unlawfully: failed to fully assess the Coastal Plain lease program’s significant environmental harms, adopted a deficient and unlawful climate analysis of harms due to increased greenhouse gas emissions from the lease program, failed to adequately study the lease program’s impacts on migratory birds, and unlawfully prioritized oil and gas development over the Arctic Refuge’s conservation purposes. The comments also argue that any leases executed now from awarded bids will fall far short of ever generating revenue sufficient to satisfy the Tax Act and the $1.1 billion in federal tax revenue Congress intended, because Arctic Refuge oil reserves currently are uneconomic to develop and likely will remain so.

The following states joined Massachusetts and Washington in the comments: Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

Handling the case for Massachusetts is Assistant Attorney General Matthew Ireland of AG Healey’s Environmental Division.

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Media Contact for AG Healey Leads Multistate Comments Against Trump Administration’s Rush to Sell Oil and Gas Leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

Office of Attorney General Maura Healey 

Attorney General Maura Healey is the chief lawyer and law enforcement officer of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
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