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Chair Grijalva and Leading Democrats Push Interior Secretary for Documents, Urge Arctic Leasing Pause Pending Investigation of Political Pressure

Washington, D.C. – Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and three senior Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee sent a letter to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt today seeking documents that might explain the rewriting of a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) – initially prepared by career staff at multiple agencies within the Department of the Interior (DOI) – to downplay the risks of new oil and gas drilling along the coastal plain of Alaska.

The letter – also signed by Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.), chair of the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources; Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), chair of the Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife; and Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) – comes in the wake of an investigatory feature article by Adam Federman published on July 26 in Politico. The letter is available at http://bit.ly/2Kakp2B.

Federman’s article, “How Science Got Trampled in the Rush to Drill in the Arctic,” lays out how the Trump administration ignored or rewrote the work of professional scientists in favor of a more industry-friendly analysis of oil drilling’s potential impact on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which includes sensitive habitats for caribou and other species. The publication of a Final Environmental Impact Statement is necessary before DOI can offer any lease sales in the refuge to fossil fuel companies.

As Federman reports:

The refuge is believed to sit atop one of the last great onshore oil reserves in North America, with a value conservatively estimated at hundreds of billions of dollars. For decades, the refuge has been the subject of a very public tug of war between pro-drilling forces and conservation advocates determined to protect an ecosystem crucial to polar bears, herds of migratory caribou, and native communities that rely on the wildlife for subsistence hunting. The Trump tax law, for the first time since the refuge was established in 1980, handed the advantage decisively to the drillers.

[. . .]

Documents leaked to POLITICO Magazine and Type Investigations reveal that the work of career scientists has at times been altered or disregarded to underplay the potential impact of oil and gas development on the coastal plain. Moreover, DOI has decided it will undertake no new studies as part of the current review process, despite scientists’ concerns that key data is years out of date or doesn’t exist.

The lawmakers writing to Bernhardt today seek four types of documents no later than Aug. 16:

  1. All documents and communications of employees and persons between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Land Management, the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Land and Minerals Management, and the Immediate Office of the Secretary regarding the Coastal Plain Oil and Gas Leasing Program Draft Environmental Impact Statement released in December 2018;
  2. All original documents and subsequent revisions drafted by employees or persons of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the DEIS;
  3. All documents and communications that show the editing process for the portions of the DEIS prepared by employees or persons of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, including information sufficient to show who made or recommended each edit; and
  4. All documents and communications from Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management Joe Balash regarding the development and editing of the DEIS.

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