The administration of President Donald Trump is moving quickly on lease sales in the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge now that the decades-long political obstruction of this necessary development has come to an end.
It’s understandable, even desirable, that the administration wants to move promptly to get the oil out of the ground. It’s in the national interest, and such projects take years upon years even in the best of circumstances.
But ANWR, as is well known, is no ordinary drilling prospect. It has been the catalyst for strong money-grabbing opposition by environmental groups, which essentially portray the coastal plain of the refuge as the last heavenly place on Earth and those who want to develop its oil and natural gas as reckless plunderers.
And that is why the Trump administration should proceed with caution with its accelerated ANWR schedule. This is going to end up in court, so the administration must be able to show it has produced a solid environmental review document.
The Washington Post reported Thursday that the Interior Department has signed a nearly $1.7 million contract with a Colorado-based company to conduct an expedited environmental review of the impact of leasing for oil and gas development in the refuge.
The liberal Center for American Progress obtained documents under the federal Freedom of Information Act that show the Trump administration hopes to issue a notice of lease sales next summer.
“That gives the firm three months to complete a scoping report, which will set the terms of how federal officials will gauge the impact of energy development in the refuge,” the Post story reads. “The report must reflect the input of local tribes and the hundreds of thousands of public comments that have been submitted.”
Many Alaskans, including numerous state leaders, have argued loudly year after year for the opening of a small portion of ANWR to the oil industry. The Daily News-Miner’s editorial position has been staunchly behind development of the refuge’s coastal plain, which in the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980 was denoted as an area of oil and gas potential.
So why, after last year’s vote in Congress and subsequent bill signing by President Trump, should caution be exercised now?
The head of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association, Kara Moriarty, said it well in the Post’s story.
“There are some who say it should take 14 years to read all the comments because they don’t want to see a lease sale anyway,” Ms. Moriarty said. “And there are others who think they can get the job done in two months, six months, eight months.”
“We want this to be a thorough process because we know it’s going to be challenged in court,” she said.
Ms. Moriarty is 100 percent correct in saying the environmental review will face a legal challenge. Environmental organizations are surely already preparing for the fight.
And because of that, the administration should make sure it isn’t taking any unnecessary shortcuts that could result in a successful legal challenge that would delay the long-sought goal of bringing ANWR’s oil to market.
—Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, July 22, 2018