September Advocacy Report: Significant developments

by Friends Advocacy Committee

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
By far the most significant advocacy update this month was the cancellation of the oil and gas leases sold to the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA) back in January 2021. These leases were sold in an illegal lease sale during which no major oil companies bid. Two other smaller companies bid but later backed out of their leases, leaving AIDEA as the sole lease owner.  Fortunately, the Biden Administration took action on September 6th to protect the coastal plain and canceled the leases. The State of Alaska has challenged this cancellation, but Friends, along with many conservation organizations and Tribal governments, have applauded this step. 

Friends issued the following statement regarding the cancellation of the lease sale: We are thrilled that the Biden Administration has canceled these illegal leases. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is home to a rich biodiversity of wildlife that depend on the large stretches of intact habitat found in the coastal plain and beyond. We thank the President and Secretary Haaland for their support for protecting this jewel of the Refuge System.

Izembek National Wildlife Refuge
Since the March 14, 2023, decision by Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland to withdraw the proposed Trump administration land exchange that authorized a road through the biological heart of the Izembek Wilderness and the subsequent dismissal of the court case, we have continued to watch the next steps at Izembek. 

A Notice of Intent to prepare a Supplemental Environmental Impact  Statement (SEIS) was issued in May 2023, and Friends submitted comments to the Administration. As of the first week of September, the Department of the Interior (DOI) is still reviewing those comments and preparing their team to move forward on the SEIS, which is tentatively due in the summer of 2024. 

Friends remain concerned that Secretary Haaland could propose an alternative land exchange now that the previous case has been dismissed.  One of the major deficiencies cited by the Secretary in her March withdrawal was an absence of impact on subsidence resources associated with the proposed land exchange. The implication being that a land exchange may still be on the table, rather than a focus on non-road alternatives. 

Friends and the entire Izembek coalition firmly believe that any manner of land exchange outside of a Congressional or Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) framework is illegal as it threatens both critical habitat on the refuge as well as the nearly 150 million acres of federally protected conservation lands in Alaska protected by ANILCA.  Accordingly, we are asking that non-road alternatives to address the needs of King Cove be strongly considered just as they were in the original Environmental Site Assessment. We continue to speak with USFWS in Alaska and at Headquarters in DC regarding the SEIS.