(WASHINGTON, D.C.)--Congressman Jamie Raskin (MD-08) joined Congressman Alan Lowenthal (CA-47), House Natural Resources Committee (HNRC) Chair Raúl Grijalva (AZ-03), Congressman Jared Huffman (CA-02), and 44 House colleagues in sending a letter to Department of the Interior (DOI) Secretary David Bernhardt calling for the DOI to reverse recent administration moves to open vast areas of Alaskan wilderness to oil and gas development.

Congressman Lowenthal serves as chair of the HNRC’s Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, and Congressman Huffman serves as chair of the HNRC’s Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife.

DOI’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) recently decided to rewrite the management plan, called an Integrated Activity Plan (IAP), for the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A). BLM’s proposed IAP dramatically expands oil and gas development into fragile ecosystems protected under the current IAP, such as the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area.

The current IAP was created in 2013 through a robust public and scientific process which included the interests of a variety of key stakeholders obtained through 17 public meetings, additional public input opportunities, and tribal consultations. The process resulted in the designation of five Special Areas of unique and irreplaceable ecological value: Teshekpuk Lake, Colville River, Utukok River Uplands, Kasegaluk Lagoon, and Peard Bay, while allowing oil and gas development on 11.8 million acres, or more than half, of the NPR-A.

The Members write in their letter to Secretary Bernhardt, “While not all areas in the NPR-A worthy of protections received them, the current IAP is a thoughtful compromise that balances protection with development and the needs of local populations. Developing a new IAP that further prioritizes oil and gas development is unnecessary and ignores the serious impacts additional development will have on the climate, Alaska’s indigenous populations, and fish and wildlife populations across this region.”

As the largest contiguous unit of public land in the United States, the NPR-A has extraordinary ecological and subsistence values. The massive Western Arctic and Teshekpuk Caribou Herds each rely upon distinct key habitats in the NPR-A, and these caribou are a vital subsistence resource for over 40 indigenous communities in northern and western Alaska. Additionally, millions of migratory seabirds, shorebirds, waterfowl, and raptors rely on the NPR-A for habitat throughout the year. Teshekpuk Lake, the largest Arctic lake in America, is so critical for these migratory birds that the lake and its surrounding wetlands are designated as globally-significant Important Bird Areas. The NPR-A is a diverse ecosystem and many mammals such as wolves, grizzly bears, moose, and wolverine call this iconic landscape their home. Likewise, marine mammals such as polar bears, Pacific walrus, beluga whales, and spotted seals utilize its rich coastal and lagoon waters.

“The climate crisis is impacting the Arctic more than any place on the planet,” Congressman Lowenthal said. “At a time when we should be increasing protections for the entire Arctic region, the Trump Administration is moving full steam ahead in trying to expand oil and gas development and put these pristine and fragile areas in additional danger. We are urging BLM to maintain the strongest possible protections for Special Areas within the NPR-A and not open additional acreage to oil and gas leasing.”

“Handing over even more of America’s public lands to oil companies ignores the impacts that additional drilling would have to the world’s climate, Alaska’s indigenous populations, and the clean air, lands, and waters that sustain some of the most extraordinary fish and wildlife populations left in North America,” Chair Grijalva said. “The sad truth is that it’s no surprise that Trump is jumping through hoops to give his oil and gas friends another item on their wish list at the expense of our public and planet’s health. America deserves a President who works to maintain the strongest possible protections for America’s special places. I’ll continue fighting President Trump’s destructive anti-environment agenda.”

“The Trump administration is rushing a plan to drill in designated special areas of Teshekpuk Lake and elsewhere in the Arctic,” Congressman Huffman said. “The Trump administration’s plan dismantles years of progress in protecting the Arctic and ignores the impacts that expanded oil and gas development will have on Arctic fish and wildlife and on migratory birds from around the world. This is a dangerous plan for Alaska’s indigenous communities, and for people around the world who will pay the price for handing these protected lands over to Big Oil.”

Click here to read the full text of the letter.