Democratic senators criticize plan that could expand Arctic oil and gas development

A group of Democratic senators is criticizing a Trump administration plan that could expand oil and gas development on a reserve in Arctic.

“With the Arctic warming ‘faster than any other place on Earth,’ according to scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey, removing existing protections in this region is reckless and unwise,” the Democrats wrote in a Thursday letter addressed to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt. 

The lawmakers said that if any change is made, it should be “to maintain the strongest possible protections” for Special Areas within the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, and “not open additional acreage in the Reserve to oil and gas leasing.”

Last year, the Interior Department put forth a plan with alternatives that include possibly expanding significantly the number of acres that can be developed. 

Other alternatives in the plan include maintaining the current level of development or decreasing the land available for development. 

The letter was signed by Democratic Sens. Jeff Merkley (Ore.), Kamala Harris (Calif.), Chris Van Hollen (Md.), Dick Durbin (Ill.), Ed Markey (Mass.), and Cory Booker (N.J.), as well as Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.), who is an independent. 

They characterized the plan as “part of a larger push by the Trump administration to recklessly sell off America’s Arctic for oil and gas development without any regard for how it will harm the people who live in and near the Reserve, our climate, and the fish and wildlife that depend on the Arctic’s special places.”

“The Bureau of Land Management is still reviewing public comments received for the draft Environmental Impact Statement [EIS] as a part of the new Integrated Activity Plan for the National Petroleum Reserve – Alaska, which includes a full range of alternatives from decreasing land available for leasing to maintaining the status quo to increasing land available for leasing and new infrastructure,” an Interior Department spokesperson told The Hill in an email. 

“The final EIS will take into account public input and stakeholder participation from Alaska Natives, and it will incorporate the most current information and lay out management goals and objectives that are environmentally responsible, respect traditional uses of the land and maintain access to subsistence resources,” the spokesperson added. 

It follows a similar note sent to Bernhardt last month by dozens of House lawmakers who were also critical of the plan.

The Hill has reached out to the Interior Department for comment. 

The reserve is an approximately 23-million-acre area in Northwest Alaska that was set aside nearly a century ago as an emergency oil supply for the Navy.