15 states sue to stop drilling plan for Arctic Refuge

Caribou graze on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, with snowcapped peaks of the Brooks Range as a backdrop. (USFWS)
Caribou graze on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, with the Brooks Range as a backdrop. (USFWS)

Fifteen states have filed a lawsuit aimed at derailing the Trump administration’s plan to allow oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. 

Their legal challenge joins a growing stack of others from more likely plaintiffs. Gwich’in tribes also filed one Wednesday. They’ve fought to block drilling for decades.

The attorneys general of the 15 states argue that they have standing to sue because what happens in the Arctic Refuge affects their fish, wildlife and physical environment.

New York, for instance, says tundra swans, American golden plovers and whimbrels migrate between the Arctic Refuge and the Empire State, contributing to New York’s $4 billion birdwatching industry.

Read the states’ lawsuit to stop ANWR leasing

Michigan says waterfowl hunting is a significant source of income for that state, and some of the targeted species nest in the refuge.

The other states bringing the suit are California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.

The states say the environmental studies of proposed oil drilling in the refuge underestimate the damage to habitat and the greenhouse gas effect that would result from using petroleum products pumped from the refuge.

They want a judge to overturn Interior Secretary David Bernhardt’s record of decision last month to proceed with an auction of drilling rights. They also want the final environmental impact statement thrown out.

RELATED: Trump Administration finalizes plan for oil drilling in Arctic Refuge

Bernhardt, in his decision, said Interior does recognize that ANWR provides habitat for many species. He said climate change was also taken into account. In an appendix to the final environmental report, the Bureau of Land Management wrote that there is no climate crisis and that past warming didn’t make the planet unlivable.

Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent at Alaska Public Media. Reach her atlruskin@alaskapublic.org. Read more about Lizhere.

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