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Interior Moves to Sell Oil Leases in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

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Caribou graze on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The Trump administration is initiating the regulatory process of opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil and natural gas leasing.

Top Interior Department officials recently visited the Kaktovik and Utgiagvik communities in northern Alaska to let them know that the agency will publish in the coming weeks a notice in the Federal Register of its intent to move toward an environmental impact statement on planned leasing, the Anchorage Daily News reported.


Interior Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt relayed similar details at an industry gathering in Anchorage later in the week, where he said, "We expect to move pretty quickly on that project."

Additionally, Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) said at the CERAWeek oil industry conference in Houston that lease sales could start as early as next year, which would beat the 2021 deadline set in last year's Republican tax bill.

"It's my hope, and this is a very aggressive timeline, that we would have the first lease sale ... to be sometime in 2019," Sullivan told the audience.

Despite the majority of Americans opposing ANWR drilling, Congress and President Trump lifted a 40-year drilling ban on the refuge after the GOP tax bill was approved in December.

This "backdoor drilling provision," as environmentalists have dubbed it, was added to the tax reform package to secure the key vote of Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who introduced the measure and has long backed the cause.

Pro-drilling Republicans have targeted the 1002 area on the Prudhoe Bay in Northern Alaska, which has an estimated 12 billion barrels of recoverable crude. However, the targeted coastal plain hosts migratory bird species and endangered wildlife and is considered to be sacred to the indigenous Gwich'in people, who sustain themselves from the caribou that migrate there.

Environmental organizations responded to the latest news with harsh criticism and condemned the administration for failing to meet with the Gwich'in nation.

"Not only is this administration doing the unconscionable by attempting to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, but it is moving forward in the most reckless, irresponsible way," Defenders of Wildlife president and CEO Jamie Rappaport Clark said in a statement. "This headlong rush toward leasing is an egregious sellout to the oil industry that would desecrate the irreplaceable wildlife habitat of the Arctic refuge's coastal plain."

"Drilling and associated industrial activity would put polar bears, caribou, migratory birds and hundreds of other species that live on the coastal plain at incredible risk, while also threatening the livelihood of the native Gwich'in people, whose culture and way of life depends on these resources," she continued. "By now, no one should be fooled by the Alaska delegation's false promises that leasing will follow a robust, lawful public engagement process. Two out of three Americans agree: the Arctic refuge is no place for oil drilling. We will fight this appalling proposal at every turn."

The Sierra Club said the action would give the area over to the oil industry, while ignoring the place's importance to the Gwich'in Nation, create permanent drilling damage to one of the country's last wild places, and cause irreversible climate impacts in a state already warming at twice the rate of the rest of the country.

"We stand with the Gwich'in Nation in defense of this sacred place. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is unique in its wildness and in the connection it offers to the unspoiled natural world, even for those who may never set foot there," Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune said in a statement.

"We have a moral obligation to safeguard the Arctic Refuge from destructive drilling, and we will fight this plan every step of the way. We will not stand idly by as Ryan Zinke's Department of the Interior runs roughshod over human rights and climate justice in their zeal to give away this special place to the dirty fuels industry."

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Protestors marched outside the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey on Monday, August 26, during the MTV Video and Music Awards to bring attention to the water crisis currently gripping the city. Karla Ann Cote / NurPhoto / Getty Images

By Will Sarni

It is far too easy to view scarcity and poor quality of water as issues solely affecting emerging economies. While the images of women and children fetching water in Africa and a lack of access to water in India are deeply disturbing, this is not the complete picture.

The city of Flint, Michigan, where dangerous levels of pollutants contaminated the municipal water supply, is a case in point — as is, more recently, the city of Newark, New Jersey.

The Past is No Longer a Guide to the Future

We get ever closer to "day zeros" — the point at when municipal water supplies are switched off — and tragedies such as Flint. These are not isolated stories. Instead they are becoming routine, and the public sector and civil society are scrambling to address them. We are seeing "day zeros" in South Africa, India, Australia and elsewhere, and we are now detecting lead contamination in drinking water in cities across the U.S.

"Day zero" is the result of water planning by looking in the rear-view mirror. The past is no longer a guide to the future; water demand has outstripped supplies because we are tied to business-as-usual planning practices and water prices, and this goes hand-in-hand with the inability of the public sector to factor the impacts of climate change into long-term water planning. Lead in drinking water is the result of lead pipe service lines that have not been replaced and in many cases only recently identified by utilities, governments and customers. An estimated 22 million people in the US are potentially using lead water service lines. This aging infrastructure won't repair or replace itself.

One of the most troubling aspects of the global water crisis is that those least able to afford access to water are also the ones who pay a disproportionately high percentage of their income for it. A report by WaterAid revealed that a standard water bill in developed countries is as little as 0.1 percent of the income of someone earning the minimum wage, while in a country like Madagascar a person reliant on a tanker truck for their water supply would spend as much as 45 percent of their daily income on water to get just the recommended daily minimum supply. In Mozambique, families relying on black-market vendors will spend up to 100 times as much on water as those reached by government-subsidized water supplies.

Finally, we need to understand that the discussion of a projected gap between supply and demand is misleading. There is no gap, only poor choices around allocation. The wealthy will have access to water, and the poor will pay more for water of questionable quality. From Flint residents using bottled water and paying high water utility rates, to the poor in South Africa waiting in line for their allocation of water — inequity is everywhere.

Water Inequity Requires Global Action — Now.

These troubling scenarios beg the obvious question: What to do? We do know that ongoing reports on the 'water crisis' are not going to catalyze action to address water scarcity, poor quality, access and affordability. Ensuring the human right to water feels distant at times.

We need to mobilize an ecosystem of stakeholders to be fully engaged in developing and scaling solutions. The public sector, private sector, NGOs, entrepreneurs, investors, academics and civil society must all be engaged in solving water scarcity and quality problems. Each stakeholder brings unique skills, scale and speed of impact (for example, entrepreneurs are fast but lack scale, while conversely the public sector is slow but has scale).

We also urgently need to change how we talk about water. We consistently talk about droughts happening across the globe — but what we are really dealing with is an overallocation of water due to business-as-usual practices and the impacts of climate change.

We need to democratize access to water data and actionable information. Imagine providing anyone with a smartphone the ability to know, on a real-time basis, the quality of their drinking water and actions to secure safe water. Putting this information in the hands of civil society instead or solely relying on centralized regulatory agencies and utilities will change public policies.

Will Sarni is the founder and CEO of Water Foundry.

Note: This post also appears on the World Economic Forum.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Circle of Blue.

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