Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

Lawmakers in Washington, D.C., on Monday introduced a bipartisan bill that would stop the planned oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in northeastern Alaska.

In a news conference in the U.S. Capitol, Rep. Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, one of the bill’s many co-sponsors, said the Arctic Cultural and Coastal Plain Protection Act is critical for protecting a fragile ecosystem that would be devastated by oil drilling.

“We can’t give the oil and gas industry the green light to permanently destroy one of our nation’s truly last wild places,” said Lowenthal, who represents most of Long Beach and parts of Orange County.

Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach) at a press conference for the Arctic Cultural and Coastal Plain Protection Act

Oil drilling in the arctic refuge has been controversial since the 1970s. In 2017, Congress approved a tax bill requiring an oil and gas lease sale in the refuge to raise revenue for a tax cut backed by President Donald Trump.

On Monday, the bill’s lead co-sponsor Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, said the mandate to open the refuge’s coastal plain to oil drilling was jammed into the tax bill, despite opposition from the majority of Americans.

In December, the Bureau of Land Management released a draft environmental impact statement with the goal of leasing the land for oil and gas exploration by this summer.

“This rush to drilling, to move forward at breakneck speed is what I refer to as their ‘Thelma and Louise’ energy policy … they’re trying to drive us off a cliff as fast as possible,” Huffman said.

The planned drilling would take place in a coastal plain area of about 1.6 million acres within the 19.3 million-acre wildlife refuge. Opponents also say development will create a web of roads and pipelines that will impact a much larger area.

Four members of the Gwich’in Nation were also at the press conference to protest the planned drilling. The Gwich’in people live along the Alaskan coastal plain and depend on the Porcupine caribou herd as a key food source, said Bernadette Demientieff, director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee.

Bernadette Demientieff, director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee, speaks.

Demientieff said the drilling would further decimate a heard that has already seen dwindling numbers due to climate change.

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was created in 1960. In 1980, it was expanded to nearly the size of South Carolina with a plan to study the area for natural resources.

The U.S. Geological Survey estimates the plain holds 10.4 billion barrels of oil.

 The Associated Press contributed to the report.

Post reporter Kelly Puente is in the nation’s capitol this week reporting on Long Beach’s congressman and other issues. Contact her at [email protected].