SACRAMENTO – Attorney General Xavier Becerra today joined a multistate lawsuit, led by Washington and Massachusetts, challenging the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) decision to lease more than one million acres of the protected Coastal Plain, the ecological heart of Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. In the lawsuit, the coalition of 15 attorneys general assert that excessive development of the Coastal Plain would significantly increase greenhouse gas emissions and disrupt local wildlife, including countless birds that migrate between the Coastal Plain and California every year. As mandated by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, BLM must hold one lease sale of 400,000 acres on the Coastal Plain within four years, and another in seven years. However, BLM’s plan would offer more than 1.5 million acres for sale, far more than required by the statute, and grant the fossil fuel industry a larger-than-mandated foothold on the Coastal Plain.
“The fact that Congress has opened up one of the last true pristine wilderness areas in the U.S. to exploitation by the fossil fuel industry doesn’t mean we can’t act to minimize the myriad harms this action will cause,” said Attorney General Becerra. “BLM has a duty to weigh the full range of alternatives and take into consideration that the Coastal Plain is valuable for more than just its oil. This isn’t the Wild, Wild West, and we won’t let BLM behave as if it doesn’t know the law.”
The development of the Coastal Plain’s oil and gas resources would result in significant greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, expanding oil and gas development on this protected land threatens a number of iconic species supported by the Coastal Plain, including polar bears, wolves, eagles, migratory birds from all seven continents, and a herd of 200,000 Porcupine caribou. Any development of the Coastal Plain region will carry significant repercussions, including direct impacts on the region’s wildlife and water resources and indirect global climate-change impacts caused by an increase in greenhouse gas emissions. The coalition asserts that in complying with its statutory obligations, BLM must also comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by fully evaluating these environmental impacts and considering appropriate alternatives that minimize the scope of and damage to the impacted area and include conditions in the lease terms to mitigate these environmental impacts. In the lawsuit, the attorneys general argue that BLM’s actions fail to comply with NEPA and violate the Administrative Procedure Act, the National Wildlife Refuge Administration Act, and other statutes.
In filing the lawsuit, Attorney General Becerra joins the states of Washington, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont.
A copy of the complaint can be found here.