In the last brutal days of the Trump Administration, the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) threw a desperate lifeline to the oil and gas industry.
On January 13, BOEM released a rushed and haphazard draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to pave the way for a million-acre oil and gas lease sale in the rich and productive waters of Lower Cook Inlet.
It’s no surprise the Trump Administration wants to scratch and claw for any last vestige of its “energy dominance” policy as it gets dragged from office. And it’s business-as-usual for BOEM to once again side with oil and gas corporations over Alaska fishermen, Natives & small businesses.
But the audacity to spit-out an Environmental Impact Statement in a mere three months is truly breathtaking. And it’s all because the Trump Administration moved to gut one of our bedrock environmental laws.
The National Environmental Policy Act is the nation’s “environmental magna carta,” and it demands a rigorous EIS process that takes a hard look at the pros and cons of major federal projects, including the reasonably foreseeable cumulative effects likely to flow from an activity such as oil and gas lease sales. A decent EIS takes at least a couple of years.
The Trump Administration, however – with strong support from its campaign donors in the oil, gas and mining sectors – took a cleaver to the EIS rules, and in July, it finally rammed through drastic rollbacks that hamstring serious environmental reviews. And one of the main provisions lopped from the rules – at the behest of Big Oil – was the requirement to consider climate change in leasing and permitting decisions.
The disconnect created by the Trump Administration’s climate denial in Cook Inlet, unfortunately, is significant. Last year federal managers closed the Pacific cod fishery in Lower Cook Inlet, and for the first time ever, they cited climate change as the culprit for low population numbers. But now we have another federal agency pressing for more fossil fuel development – and more greenhouse gas emissions – in the very same spot.
As the saying goes, the stupid is strong.
But there’s lots of hope for Cook Inlet, on at least two grounds. First, the Trump Administration is notoriously sloppy, and it will be long-remembered for its shoddy and wasteful attempts to authorize bad ideas and rollback commonsense safeguards.
In fact, the nonpartisan Institute for Policy Integrity found the Trump Administration has prevailed in only 20% of the legal cases where it sought to weaken rules or promote shortsighted projects. So, an EIS churned-out in a mere 3 months will almost certainly fail in federal court.
Second, and perhaps more importantly, the Biden Administration has stated early and often that climate change will be a top priority for the new Administration. And for good reason: climate change is an existential threat to the planet and the life and the economies it supports.
As a result, expect the new Administration to come in with a clear-eyed assessment of the substantial risks posed by expanded oil and gas development in Lower Cook Inlet.
But it won’t happen without Alaskans speaking up. So, if you think a Lower Cook Inlet laced with pipelines and platforms and oil pollution does not fit your vision for healthy and sustainable jobs and economies in southcentral Alaska, submit a comment by March 1.
Or email Inletkeeper for other ways to raise your voice to protect Cook Inlet.