Alaska Delegation Seeks Comment Deadline Extension for Coastal Plain SEIS

Requests 180-Day Extension Based on Interior’s Compounding Failures on Substance, Process, and Consultation

Washington, DC – Alaska’s Congressional Delegation yesterday sent a letter to the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) requesting a 180-day extension to the current comment deadline for the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) for the Coastal Plain Oil and Gas Program (the Program). While pointing out failures across the board related to this 1,430-page SEIS, U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan (both R-Alaska) and U.S. Representative Mary Peltola (D-Alaska) asked BLM to “fulfill its responsibilities to engage in meaningful consultations with affected Tribes and ANCSA Corporations,” by extending the comment deadline well past November 7, 2023.

“While our analysis of the draft SEIS has only just begun, it is already clear that this is a significant effort to destroy any remaining confidence in the Coastal Plain Oil and Gas Program,” the Delegation wrote. “It is unclear to us how it can take the Department nearly three years—and hundreds of public meetings and government-to-government consultations—to establish that program, but only a matter of months to rewrite it, without consultation, in a manner that prioritizes the fulfillment of a presidential campaign pledge rather than compliance with federal law.”

The delegation cited the SEIS’ attempt to fundamentally alter the management of the Program, despite the plain text of the law and clear congressional intent; the Department’s failure to engage in meaningful consultation with the Alaska Natives who live on the North Slope; multiple process-related failures, including insufficient notice of public meetings, lack of time to read the 1,430-page SEIS, and a request from BLM for the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation to combine consultations on multiple major actions; the Department’s apparent efforts to minimize opportunity for Alaskans to provide comment; and the torrent of comment deadlines Alaskans face, at a time when many have faced fiber optic outages and are busy working to fill their freezers for the winter.

With regard to the lack of consultation on the SEIS, the Delegation wrote:

“Beyond our substantive concerns on the SEIS are an array of process-related matters, led by the utter lack of consultation with Alaska Native Tribes and ANCSA Corporations. As with the proposed NPR-A rule, it is our understanding that the Department did not meet any of these commitments when promulgating and publishing this SEIS with an artificially short comment period. In fact, we understand that BLM-Alaska received explicit instructions not to inform or consult with the residents of communities on the North Slope prior to revoking all valid existing leases in the 1002 Area and releasing the SEIS.

“Stunningly, the people of Kaktovik, the only community located within ANWR, learned about these actions while subsistence whaling. Neither the Native Village of Kaktovik, the federally recognized tribe, nor the Kaktovik Inupiat Corporation, Kaktovik’s Alaska Native Corporation (ANC), were consulted prior to or during BLM’s SEIS process. It seems BLM intentionally violated its own Departmental and administration consultation policy with regard to the Tribe and ANC most impacted by these actions.”

With regard to substantive defects within the SEIS, the Delegation wrote:

“The Department’s SEIS would fundamentally alter the management of the Coastal PlainOil and Gas Program. Our preliminary review of the complex documents released in September makes clear that ample time is needed to understand and provide comment on what the Department is proposing, how it interacts with Congress’ clear mandate for responsible oil and gas development on the Coastal Plain (also called the “1002 Area”), and how a lack of such development—which is the administration’s unstated goal—will impact Alaska, and especially the Alaska Native people on the North Slope.

“As you know, Congress explicitly set aside a small portion of the 1002 Area for responsible development. Nullifying that through overly burdensome or impossible-to-meet conditions would harm Alaskans, especially those who live on the North Slope, by reducing employment, growth, and the revenue available for schools, public health, and emergency services. It would also harm our energy security, national security, and the global environment as energy responsibly produced from the Coastal Plain would be a substitute for dirtier fuels produced by adversarial nations.”

The Delegation also urged the administration to withdraw and unwind its harmful resource policies in Alaska:

“While proper consultation and extended comment periods are necessary for the Department to do right by Alaskans, that would also give the administration time to reconsider and withdraw the rules and plans it has proposed that will harm Alaska resource development and, by extension, U.S. energy security. We fail to understand why the administration has remained so intent on loosening sanctions on Iran and Venezuela while punishing Alaska and restricting our opportunities to responsibly produce our vast resources. Recent global events have shown the horrors that pro-Iran, anti-Alaska resource policies deliver. We urge you to take advantage of the window a longer comment period provides to unwind these damaging policies.”

Their full letter to DOI is available here.