Alaska’s last wilderness under threat: Oil or polar bears?

Alaska's last wilderness under threat: Oil or polar bears?

Associations are suing the Trump administration, which wants to undermine nature conservation for oil and gas exploration after the elections in Alaska.

In the beginning of the election campaign in the US, a great ecological controversy has sparked: Should part of the last wilderness in Alaska be opened to the oil and gas industry – or should the drilling in the Arctic be made out of respect for nature, the rights of the indigenous peoples and climate protection National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to remain banned? So argue 13 environmental and indigenous associations that filed a lawsuit on Monday against the US Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt and the Bureau of Land Management, which reports to him.

You are responding to the decision of the authority, which last week published rules for the auctioning of drilling rights in the ANWR in northeast Alaska.

The organizations, including the indigenous Gwich’in and environmental groups Sierra Club and Natural Resources Defense Council, claim the process violates indigenous rights and nature conservation. “The process was flawed from the start because the Home Office was in a great hurry to sell the coastal plain to the highest bidder,” Karlin Itchoak of the environmental organization The Wilderness Society told the Canadian broadcaster CBC.

The US Department of the Interior pointed out that a “30-year-old blockade” on Alaska’s development has finally been lifted. They only issued rules on how to search for raw materials on around 8 percent of the 78,000 square kilometers. “Congress has instructed us to sell these rights,” said Minister Bernhardt. Politicians and industry wanted to open up the protected area from 1960 again and again to the search for oil and gas, but they repeatedly failed due to resistance from environmentalists and indigenous peoples.

It was only in 2017 that the US Congress approved the area in a law on tax breaks. A bill to withdraw this regulation has so far not got beyond the now democratically controlled House of Representatives.

The ANWR is larger than Bavaria and one of the last hardly touched large nature reserves in the world. The mountain and tundra region is home to dozens of species of mammals, fish and birds, including polar bears and a herd of 150,000 caribous. It is bounded by the Alaska Pipeline. So far, however, the ANWR itself has been taboo for oil and gas exploration.

The approval from the Home Office came last week when US politicians looked at the Democratic Party conference. Their candidate, Joe Biden, has already announced that with him as president, there will be no drilling in the ANWR. US President Donald Trump, who is running again for the Republicans, is a big fan of oil and gas.

Enough material for a heated argument about nature conservation and energy policy in the election campaign. The associations’ action also provides that the Ministry of the Interior has 60 days to reply. That would be shortly before the election on November 3rd.

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