House Bill Seeks to Nullify Balance in Western Arctic
Today, the House Natural Resources Committee passed H.R. 1964, the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska Access Act, introduced by Representative Doc Hastings (R-WA). If signed into law, the bill would nullify the Obama administration’s balanced plan for the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (Reserve). The current plan, finalized earlier this year, protected the most critical wildlife habitat and native subsistence areas within the Reserve as five Special Areas mostly off limits to oil and gas drilling. The plan also opened up roughly 11.8 million acres of the Reserve to leasing. H.R. 1964 redefines the Reserve as explicitly designated for the singular purpose of providing oil and gas drilling access, undercutting the protection of many important surface values that have been a fundamental congressional mandate in the Reserve since its management was passed to the Department of Interior from the Navy in 1976. The legislation echoes the same call for annual leases that the Obama administration is already holding, yet seeks to expedite drilling through potentially hazardous and risky shortcuts. The administration is already doing what is needed to allow reasonable access to oil and gas within the Reserve. The Obama administration’s final plan for the Reserve was the result of a two-and-a-half-year public process that included extensive consultation with a wide array of stakeholders and resource managers. The final product was a well thought-out management plan that protects wildlife habitat for two caribou herds, wolves wolverines, musk oxen and one of the largest densities of grizzly bears in North America. The plan also protected offshore areas critical for marine mammals including endangered beluga whales and spotted seals and a unique complex of coastal wetlands critical to literally millions of migratory birds and waterfowl. The combination of sound habitat protections and the responsible availability of oil and gas exploration resulted in an approach broadly supported by sportsmen and woman, scientists, conservationists, Alaska Tribes and more than 400,000 Americans who care how these public lands are managed. Hastings’ bill is unnecessary, short-sighted and detrimental to the world-class wildlife this spectacular landscape harnesses. The Conservation Lands Foundation’s Alaska Program will continue to work toward ensuring the Reserve’s Special Areas are protected and that any infrastructure development is done with limited impact to the Reserve’s surface values. H.R 1964 is a direct threat to both of these goals.