ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - A group of 16 Democratic Senators, including two presidential candidates, sent a letter to 11 major U.S. banks, asking them to stop financing oil and gas drilling and exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
The letter, dated Jan. 30, comes after Goldman Sachs became the first major U.S. bank to announce that it would not finance drilling in the Arctic, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
The Democrats' letter, signed by presidential candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vermont, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., among others, cites "Indigenous rights, working to combat climate change, and preparing the U.S. economy to weather the growing impacts of the climate crisis," as some of the reasons to protect the Wildlife Refuge by denying financing for drilling and exploration activities.
The letter argued cited the vast number of wildlife species that live and migrate through ANWR, and the Gwich'in Nation's reliance on the Porcupine Caribou Herd, and spiritual connection to the land as important reasons for the area's protection.
The letter made no claim to specific impacts oil and gas development may have on the animals of ANWR , or to contribute to climate change, though it detailed climate changes observed in the Arctic over decades as reported in the Arctic Report Card.
It listed nine other banks across the world that have reportedly changed policies to avoid funding oil and gas exploration in the Arctic.
"The scale of your banks' assets individually, let alone together, give you the ability to drive change in protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and in shifting towards a U.S. financial sector that effectively analyzes and plans for climate risks," the letter read. "We respectfully urge you to reassess your current environmental and climate policies and update them to include a prohibition on funding for oil and gas drilling or exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge."
Alaska's Congressional Delegation responded with its own letter Tuesday, addressed to the same 11 banks, saying the Democratic Senators' arguments are "willfully ignorant of the reasonable program we enacted to guide safe production in the 1002 area, Alaska's strong environmental record, and the preferences of the Alaska Natives who actually live in ANWR."
Alaska Republicans, Rep. Don Young, and Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan wrote in the letter that development in the 1002 Area of ANWR is restricted to no more than 2,000 federal acres -- one ten-thousandth of the 19.3-million acre refuge.
They wrote that while the Senators who wrote the initial letter focused on Indigenous Alaskans, the Inupiat people, many of whom support responsible development, were left out of that picture. "Nor did they share how responsible development has paid for sanitation, schools, public safety, and health care for thousands of North Slope residents."
"Reading their letter, you would have no idea that the Inupiat people exist, or that many live within ANWR in the community of Kaktovik," the Alaska Delegation's letter wrote. Just last week, the only school in Kaktovik burned down in sub-zero temperatures.
Alaska's delegation wrote that Alaska's oil production is less than one percent of global supply, and can't be blamed for driving climate change alone. "Shifting Arctic development to nations with lower environmental standards will not benefit the United States nor reduce climate change," they wrote. "It will instead weaken our economy, renew our dependence on foreign sources of energy, and make our coasts more vulnerable to oil spills as Russia develops and ships resources through the Arctic."
The 1002 Area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was opened to energy development by the Trump Administration, with work by Alaska's Congressional Delegation, with the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.
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