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15 states sue Trump administration over plan to open Arctic refuge to drilling

15 states sue Trump administration over plan to open Arctic refuge to drilling

Fifteen states are suing the Trump administration over its plan for opening up nearly 1.6 million acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska to oil and gas development. 

“This plan was rushed, it’s incredibly flawed, there were more than 1 million public comments against it, it fails to fully evaluate and consider the devastating environmental impacts of opening up the coastal plain and it will corrupt one of our nation’s most pristine and uniquely important habitats,” Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey (D) told reporters.

Two other lawsuits, on behalf of indigenous and environmental groups, over the drilling plan have already been announced. 

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The new suit argues that the administration failed to take a “hard look” at the impacts on greenhouse gas emissions, climate change and migratory birds, among other issues.

“In their rush to make this change for special interests, they cut corners,” Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson (D) said. 

The administration announced last month that it would open up the entire 1.56 million-acre area of the refuge’s Coastal Plain to drilling. The whole refuge is 19.3 million acres. 

Critics have expressed concern that drilling could harm animal species that are found there, negatively affect the landscape, exacerbate climate change and harm the Gwich’in people who hunt caribou there. 

Species that are found at ANWR include grizzly bears, polar bears, gray wolves, caribou and arctic foxes. 

In a statement on Wednesday, Interior spokesperson Conner Swanson defended the program and noted that it was set in motion by congressional action. 

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“This is a congressionally mandated energy development program that leaves ninety-two percent of the refuge completely off-limits to development," he said. "The lawsuit is politically motivated and meritless, and we will see them in court.”

A provision in the 2017 Trump tax bill approved by a Republican-controlled Congress opened ANWR to drilling following years of debate over the matter. The House, now led by Democrats, has since voted to block drilling in the area again, but the GOP-controlled Senate has not taken up the bill. 

That legislation required the Interior Department to hold at least two lease sales of at least 400,000 acres each over the next few years. The first sale could be as soon as this year. 

Documents recently obtained by the Center for Biological Diversity indicate that the administration pursued an expedited process for approving ANWR drilling, as well as dozens of other projects. 

Updated: 4:13 p.m.