Press Release


September 12, 2019


U.S. House Passes Legislation to Protect Arctic Refuge in Historic Vote

The Arctic Cultural and Coastal Plain Protection Act reinstates key safeguards that the 2017 tax bill stripped from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

Washington — Today in a historic vote, the U.S. House of Representatives passed (225-193) the Arctic Cultural and Coastal Plain Protection Act, bipartisan legislation that would halt the Trump administration in its efforts to pursue oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Reps. Jared Huffman (D-CA) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) introduced the measure, which is the first stand-alone bill the House of Representatives has passed to protect the sacred Arctic Refuge.

This bill would restore protections that were stripped when the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act mandated oil and gas leasing, development and production on the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge. Oil industry allies in Congress used the Tax Act to circumvent normal legislative channels and insert Arctic Refuge drilling into legislation using an expedited process. Approximately 70 percent of Americans oppose development in the Arctic Refuge, according to a number of recent polls.

Drilling in the Arctic Refuge threatens the lives of Indigenous Peoples, the survival of countless species, and one of the most special landscapes in the United States. The Arctic Refuge contains the greatest biodiversity of any protected area north of the Arctic Circle. It provides vital habitat for the Porcupine Caribou Herd, which uses the unique coastal plain ecosystem to bear and rear its young. The Gwich’in people have depended on the Porcupine caribou for thousands of years and call the coastal plain “Iizhik Gwats’an Gwandaii Goodlit” (The Sacred Place Where Life Begins).  Protecting the caribou is a matter of basic human rights for the Gwich’in and the Iñupiat communities that stand with them. 

A coalition of environmental and human rights organizations responded to the vote as follows:

"Today's historic vote to restore protections for the Arctic Refuge fills us with gratitude to our elders for guiding us, and to House leaders for listening to us and respecting our human rights,” said Bernadette Demientieff, executive director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee. “The Gwich'in Nation and the Porcupine Caribou herd are entwined. The caribou's survival is our survival. We give thanks today to all who stood with the Gwich'in and who will stand with us every step of the way to protect the sacred coastal plain and our way of life."

“The American people never wanted drilling in our nation’s largest and wildest wildlife refuge. Arctic Refuge drilling passed, not because of popular sentiment or because of any urgent need for its speculative oil, but because it was jammed into a larger tax bill, skirting a full, fair and open debate,” said Adam Kolton, executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League. “Today’s historic passage of the Arctic Cultural and Coastal Plain Protection Act by the House sends a strong message to the Trump administration that this national treasure should remain protected as a legacy for future generations, not turned into a giant industrial complex that will increase carbon pollution and send American oil overseas.”

“Today’s vote underscores the strong support Americans have demonstrated for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and its iconic wildlife for decades. The U.S. House of Representatives has taken an important step to restore protections to this pristine American landscape and thwart attempts by the oil and gas industry to drill in this national treasure. The coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge supports a diversity of species such as the Porcupine caribou herd, thousands of migratory birds, and the most imperiled polar bear population on the planet. Defenders of Wildlife is pleased to see members of Congress standing firm to protect our natural heritage,” said Jamie Rappaport Clark, president and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife.

“The last Congress snuck the Arctic drilling provision into the 2017 Tax Bill despite the well-known adverse environmental, human rights, health, and climate consequences of Arctic oil and gas drilling,” said Earthjustice Legislative Counsel Marissa Knodel. “Today’s vote marks a significant milestone in the ongoing effort to restore protections for the cherished Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. And it serves as a reminder that those who would sacrifice a global treasure of incomparable value for the sake of corporate profits are completely at odds with the public interest, and the vast majority of American voters.”

“The House took a historic step today, voting to restore protections that safeguard the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge from oil drilling. We live in a time when clean renewable energy is experiencing unprecedented growth. While it has never made sense to allow oil companies to destroy the crown jewel of our national wildlife refuge for private profit, doing so now, when there are cleaner and more equitable ways to power our economy, is especially reckless and irrational. We applaud the House's action and call on the Senate to follow that lead,” said Erik DuMont, Public Lands Conservation Campaign Director, Environment America. 

“We applaud this action by the representatives of all Americans to protect the Arctic Refuge and preserve the traditional way of life of the Gwich’in people,” said Dr. David C. Raskin, president of the Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges. “The permanent preservation of the Arctic Refuge is long overdue, and this important first step to counter the ill-conceived destruction of public lands by the current administration must be followed by expanded wilderness designation for the Arctic Refuge as proposed by President Obama.”

“The House’s passage of H.R. 1146 is a resounding victory for the Gwich’in people, their sacred traditions, and the invaluable wildlife of the majestic Arctic National Wildlife Refuge,” said League of Conservation Voters Conservation Program Director Alex Taurel. “We commend the lead sponsors of the bill -- Reps. Jared Huffman and Brian Fitzpatrick -- and every House member who voted to protect this pristine landscape and urge the Senate to take action. The majority of people in the U.S. oppose oil and gas drilling in the Arctic Refuge -- we will continue to stand up against special interest big polluters as long as it takes.” 

“By passing the Arctic Cultural and Coastal Plain Protection Act today, the House takes an essential step towards protecting the Arctic Refuge for the millions of breeding and migratory birds, countless wildlife, and Indigenous Peoples who rely on this vibrant ecosystem,” said Sarah Greenberger, senior vice president of conservation policy at the National Audubon Society. “The majority of Americans agree that oil and gas development does not belong in the Arctic Refuge. We are thankful to the US House of Representatives for listening to the public and supporting this bill.”

“America wasn’t fooled by GOP leaders’ backhanded tax bill maneuver to destroy these precious wildlands for private profit,” said Susan Casey Lefkowitz, chief program officer for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “‘Refuge’ means a place of safety and shelter from danger.  This vote reaffirms the country’s overwhelming intention to protect the Arctic Refuge—its sensitive coastal plain and wildlife, our climate, and the human rights of the Gwich’in and other Indigenous people — from industrialization and exploitation by polluters.”

“On behalf of hundreds of thousands of Alaskans, we thank the members of Congress who have voted to restore protections for the Arctic Refuge, recognizing that no amount of money can justify the moral, climate, and human rights costs of this scheme,” said Elisabeth Balster Dabney, executive director of Northern Alaska Environmental Center. “The provision to force through oil extraction on the Coastal Plain never should have been included in the Tax Act in the first place, as it was predicated on false promises of financial gain. We stand with the Indigenous peoples of Alaska who have depended on the health of the Porcupine Caribou Herd for millennia. The calving grounds on the coastal plain are sacred and irreplaceable, and should forever remain off limits. Permanent protection honors this relationship, rather than exploiting our shared heritage for financial gain and outdated energy models.”

“The overwhelming majority of the American people oppose drilling in the Arctic Refuge because it would threaten one of America’s last truly wild places, the climate, and the human rights of the Gwich’in people,” said Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune. “Today’s vote should be a clear signal to the oil industry that opposition to drilling in the coastal plain isn’t going away, and that investing in Arctic drilling would be an expensive risk that’s not worth taking.” 

“We are proud to stand with Alaska’s Indigenous Gwich’in people—for whom the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge is sacred ground—and grateful to those who cast historic votes today to right a terrible wrong,” said Jamie Williams, president of The Wilderness Society. “The refuge should never have been opened to oil and gas leasing. The majority of people in our nation favor protecting this special place, and we must work together to stop the Trump administration’s effort to sell off our most treasured public lands.”

“This vote is the first step in righting a wrong done when legislators in the pocket of oil extractors used an unrelated Tax Bill to exploit a life-giving place that had been protected by the law of the land for decades,” said Vicki Clark, executive director of Trustees for Alaska. ”Americans support protecting the Arctic Refuge, and we join them in applauding today’s House vote to restore projections to the Arctic Refuge. We have always and will always stand with the Gwich’in.”