On June 15th, I attended my first rally. I stood and cheered with around 100 other people, one even donning a polar bear costume, all firmly believing that oil and gas drilling should not be permitted in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. As I stood there in the crowd, holding a sign that referenced the importance of this place to the native Gwich’in people, I could feel the energy around me. This energy gave me hope in the resistance, a resistance that, in this moment, stood up for the Arctic Refuge, and in so many moments has rallied around the same underlying principle: challenging our current administration and the industrial interests they prioritize.
This rally preceded the Department of the Interior’s public hearing on their proposal to open the Arctic Refuge to oil and gas drilling, and I was there to testify. As I entered the National Association of Home Builders headquarters, where the hearing took place late on a Friday night, took my seat and prepared to give my testimony, I found myself motivated by all the others there with the same mission. Whether they were members of the Gwich’in people, seasoned environmental advocates, or newly emboldened citizens, we were all unified in our opposition to destroying this treasured place. I realized that rallies are not held for what is said or chanted throughout their duration, but how they bring people together, and inspire us to take action.
Here is the testimony I gave that evening:
Hello everyone, my name is Milo Donovan. Thank you for the opportunity to offer comment today. I am a member of the League of Conservation Voters and am here to strongly oppose any drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
The Department of the Interior recently released a notice of intent to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement. They’ve made it clear that they will attempt to rush through the environmental review process and begin selling leases in just over a year. Doing so would be an unlawful attack on a treasured section of public land, as well as the valuable resources and species it contains. Drilling on the Coastal Plain of the Arctic Refuge would mean the destruction of vital habitat, disruption of native people, and acceleration of climate change where its effects are already felt the hardest.
The Coastal Plain is an essential and biologically diverse area, home to polar bears, caribou, muskoxen, and numerous migratory birds. Oil and gas drilling would damage what is important denning habitat for the already endangered polar bear and the calving ground of the Porcupine Caribou Herd. In fact, the protection of the Porcupine Caribou is one of the original reasons the Refuge was set aside. Amidst this process, the Department of the Interior should reflect upon the longstanding treaty between the US and Canada that has protected the cherished herd.
The Porcupine Caribou is of particular importance to the Gwich’in people. For years it has been one of their primary food sources. The Department of the Interior has an obligation to the Gwich’in in protecting an animal so crucial to their existence. If they choose to move forward with their destructive efforts, it should at least be done with adequate scientific evidence, and a just environmental review process that will truly protect the herd and other organisms.
Lastly, drilling on the Coastal Plain would contribute to climate change and its detrimental effects. Climate change is the greatest threat to the Arctic region and its many sea ice dependent animals, as temperatures have risen twice as fast there than in the rest of the United States. Oil and gas activities are completely averse to the protection of the Arctic and the principles upon which the Refuge was founded.
For these reasons, I urge you to join me in opposing the abuse of a priceless piece of public land. The Department of the Interior must not forget its responsibility to protect and preserve our public lands and it should refrain from allowing drilling in the Arctic Refuge. Thank you.