MARCH 11, 2003
David Willett, Sierra Club, 202-675-6698
Eleanor Huffines, Wilderness Society Alaska Regional Director,
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
- 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.
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.
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."
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.
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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