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Office of the Vermont Attorney General

AG Donovan Joins Lawsuit to Protect Arctic National Wildlife Refuge From Oil and Gas Development

September 9, 2020

Contact: Charity R. Clark, Chief of Staff 802-828-3171

Attorney General T.J. Donovan today announced filing a federal lawsuit, along with 14 other Attorneys General, against the federal government to protect the Coastal Plain of Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from oil and gas development. The cause of the lawsuit is the authorization by the federal government of an oil and gas leasing program, which opens the Coastal Plain to potential future oil and gas exploration and development. The lawsuit argues that by increasing greenhouse gas emissions oil and gas development will exacerbate the impacts of climate change on the environment and economy. It will also have devastating impacts on migratory birds that migrate through the lower 48 states, including Vermont. The lawsuit was filed today in U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska.

The 1.6 million-acre Coastal Plain is unparalleled in its biological significance for hundreds of species, including caribou, threatened polar bears, and millions of birds that migrate to and from six continents and through the lower 48 states, including Vermont. These include the American golden-plover, snow bunting, and whimbrel. According to data for 2011, Vermont led the nation in the percentage of residents participating in bird watching (39%), and residents and visitors spent $289 million on birdwatching and other wildlife viewing in the state. Additionally, the Coastal Plain is particularly vulnerable to environmental stressors, including climate change, which has caused thinning sea ice and thawing of permafrost in the region.

“At a time when the crisis of climate change is already upon us, it is inconceivable that we would allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge,” said Attorney General T.J. Donovan. “In Vermont, we value our natural world, including the birds that migrate to and from this region of Alaska.”

The lawsuit asserts that the Trump Administration’s  plan violates several laws including the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act (Refuge Administration Act), the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA), and the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 (Tax Act).

The lawsuit seeks to block any exploration activities and to prevent the government from issuing oil and gas development leases in the Coastal Plain.

Also joining the lawsuit are that states of California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Washington.

A copy of the lawsuit can be found here.

Last modified: September 9, 2020