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MARCH 11, 2003
9:50 AM

CONTACT: Sierra Club 
David Willett, Sierra Club, 202-675-6698
Eleanor Huffines, Wilderness Society Alaska Regional Director, 907-272-9453
Brad Devries, Defenders of Wildlife, 202-682-9400 Lexi Keogh, Alaska Wilderness League, 202-544-5205
Bush Administration Keeping Secrets on Arctic Drilling Plans Groups Must Sue to Enforce Freedom of Information Act
WASHINGTON - March 11 - Environmental groups announced today they are suing the Bush Administration for refusing to divulge information about energy industry efforts to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The Bush Administration has refused to respond to two separate Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to make public communications about drilling in the Arctic Refuge, including any communications with the oil industry or associations and lobbying groups. The suit is being filed today by Sierra Club, Alaska Wilderness League, Defenders of Wildlife, and The Wilderness Society.

"Unfortunately, the Bush Administration demonstrates a pattern of keeping the public in the dark when it comes to policies that threaten America's environment," said David Bookbinder, Sierra Club attorney. "We know the Bush Administration supports destructive drilling in the pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the public deserves to know how and why that decision was made. So far, all the Administration has given the public is the runaround."

Last year the environmental groups submitted two requests under the Freedom of Information Act for records, including scientific information, relevant to Department of Interior's (DOI) treatment of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and proposals to open the coastal plain to oil development. To date, DOI has not provided any documents responsive to these requests and has instead engaged in tactics designed to simply delay or obstruct the process. These tactics left the groups with no option but to have a court force the Administration to obey the law.

Drilling in the Arctic has been the centerpiece of Bush's energy policy, and Congress could vote on the issue as early as this week, by adding an amendment to the Federal Budget bill. The groups seek to uncover what information the Bush Administration considered when deciding to advocate drilling in the Arctic, as well as what information was ignored. Last week the National Academy of Sciences released its report on the cumulative impacts of drilling on Alaska's North Slope which reaffirmed the devastating impacts that drilling has already caused across the region. The report provided further evidence that allowing this destructive development to extend into the Arctic Refuge would only exacerbate existing environmental and cultural problems and cause more damage.

"We need to know if the Administration has more information about the dangers to wildlife and the environment from drilling in the Arctic Refuge," said Rodger Schlickeisen, President of Defenders of Wildlife. "If the Bush Administration is confident about their decision to drill, they should make the information public."

Drilling in the Arctic will do nothing to solve our current energy demands. Any oil from the Refuge will not reach the lower 48 states for at least 7-10 years according to the oil industry. The most optimistic estimates say that there is a total of about 6 months supply of oil in the Arctic.

The Arctic Refuge serves as the staging area for hundreds of thousands of migratory birds, denning habitat for polar bears, and calving grounds for the 130,000 member Porcupine River caribou herd. Moreover, the Refuge plays an integral part in the lives of the Gwich'in people who depend on the seasonal migrations of the caribou for both survival and cultural identity. The biological heart of this pristine wilderness is the 1.5 million-acre coastal plain. Permitting oil development on the coastal plain would not only disturb a unique and fragile ecosystem, but it would also jeopardize the traditional lifestyle of these Native Alaskans.

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