Cheers to members of the House Natural Resources Committee who are challenging a biological opinion issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that paves the way for drilling in the Coastal Plain region of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

“The proposed oil and gas leasing program for the Coastal Plain has suffered from reckless haste, irresponsible public process and lack of transparency,’’ the Democratic members wrote in a July 17 letter to U.S. Department of Interior Secretary David Bernhardt.

The letter, spearheaded by Democratic Rep. Jared Huffman of California, who is chair of the HNRC’s Subcommittee on Water, Oceans and Wildlife, said the opinion ignores overwhelming scientific evidence that oil and gas activities in the Refuge has a devastating impact on wildlife, especially the Southern Beaufort Sea population of polar bears who den in the area. Polar bears are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

The biological opinion, at first kept quiet until being released through a Freedom of Information Act request, fails to account for the cumulative effect and potential harm of oil industry activities, the letter stated. The Trump administration opened the Coastal Plain region for drilling in a provision of the 2017 tax act to win support from Republican Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski.

The push by the administration to lease the area to oil and drilling interest comes as worldwide oil markets are faltering and oil prices are historically low due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. Several banks renounced financial support for drilling projects because they conflict with their policies to promote efforts that reduce global warming – much of which is caused by fossil fuels.

“Now more than ever the prospect of oil and gas development in the Coastal Plain is absurd, unnecessary and likely to devastate ecosystems and harm irreplaceable Arctic wildlife,’’ the Congressional members said in the letter. “We request you rescind the Biological Opinion.”

In addition to Huffman, the letter was signed by HNRC Chair Raul Grijalva, Rep. Alan Lowenthal of California, Rep. Ruben Gallego of Arizona and Rep. Deb Haaland of New Mexico.

“We must continue to block this assault on one of the most pristine refuges in the U.S. in any way possible,” said FoA President Priscilla Feral. “We are pleased these House members are taking a stand against oil and energy interests to prevent the plundering of the refuge.”

For more on FoA’s efforts to protect the Arctic Refuge click here.