Pockets of melted snow and rain form small pools of water in the the area of Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge's coastal plain that the Bush administration wants open to oil exploration, Tuesday, June 19, 2001. U.S. Interior Secretary Gale Norton toured the coastal plain Tuesday, to view first hand area during her visit to ANWR.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management released the final version of an environmental impact statement for oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge on Thursday to diverging responses from stakeholder groups and strong pushback from more than half of the U.S. House of Representatives.

The final EIS recommended the entire 1.6 million-acre coastal plain of the refuge be made open for lease sales to interested oil and gas companies, choosing the largest option in a series of suggestions included in a December draft of the environmental statement, but outlines a plan to limit certain surface area work near bodies of water and wildlife calving and denning grounds. 

Alaska’s congressional delegation, who have long supported opening the 1002 section of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration and development, celebrated the release.

“This is a major step forward in our decades-long efforts to allow for responsible resource development in Alaska’s 1002 Area,” said Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski. “I’m hopeful we can now move to a lease sale in the very near future, just as Congress intended, so that we can continue to strengthen our economy, our energy security, and our long-term prosperity.”

Alaska Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan expressed a similar sentiment, reflecting on the road leading to the release. 

“For decades, Alaskans have been urging their federal government to open the 1002 Area of ANWR for exploration. At long last, Congress voted to allow it. Now, the administration is working diligently to fulfill Congress’s directions in a transparent and responsible process,” Sullivan said. “As Alaska has shown time and again, we can responsibly develop our resources, under the highest environmental standards, to grow our state and significantly contribute toward the goal of energy dominance for our country.”

The then Republican-led House of Representatives approved in 2017 the opening of the 1002 area of ANWR for petroleum development. Since then, however, partisan majority has shifted in the House with the most recent election, providing the body with a Democratic majority who passed, with the support of a small number of Republican colleagues, an act Thursday in the hopes of blocking development in the area.

The Arctic Cultural and Coastal Plain Protection Act would reinstate protections for the area of land that were reversed in the 2017 passage of the tax bill that opened the 1002 area.

Alaska Republican Rep. Don Young was one of the 193-member minority who voted against the House effort to stall development in the area. Young presented a fiery floor speech calling the bill a “sham.”

“Democrats, and my colleague from California in particular, have tried to frame energy development in ANWR as a human rights issue for the Gwich’in. Unfortunately for them, the Gwich’in do not live anywhere near the coastal plain,” Young said. “The 10-02 was specifically set aside by Congress for oil exploration. Despite the Democrat’s ongoing efforts, this is not a wilderness area. Let me say again: The 10-02 is designated for development.”

Sullivan joined his colleague in the House in anger over the move, calling the bill “reckless,” promising to help kill the bill when it reaches the Senate.

The Gwich’in Steering Committing, an Alaska group supporting environmental and indigenous rights, celebrated the House vote as a step in protecting an area of the state that the Gwich’in tribe considers sacred calving grounds for the Porcupine Caribou Herd.

“Today’s historic vote to restore protections for the Arctic Refuge fills us with gratitude to our elders for guiding us, and to House leaders for listening to us and respecting our human rights,” said Bernadette Demientieff, executive director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee. “The Gwich’in Nation and the Porcupine Caribou Herd are entwined. The caribou’s survival is our survival. We give thanks today to all who stood with the Gwich’in and who will stand with us every step of the way to protect the sacred coastal plain and our way of life.”

Other environmental and indigenous rights organizations including Native Movement, the Northern Center, Fairbanks Climate Action Coalition, the Alaska chapter of Wilderness Watch, Audubon Alaska, the Alaska Center, Denali Citizens Council and Alaska Wildlife Alliance issued statements of support for protections of the area. 

Contact staff writer Erin McGroarty at 459-7544. Follow her on Twitter:@FDNMPolitics.