The plan would allow oil leasing on 1.56 million acres of the 19-million-acre refuge. The proposal — which would open the entire coastal plain to the energy industry — was seen as the most extreme of three options considered by the Interior Department.
Supporters have argued it will result in a windfall for the federal Treasury and revive Alaska's struggling economy. But opponents have said that opening the refuge to oil leasing could do irreversible damage to a region already destabilized by warming temperatures and other effects of climate change. The refuge is home to large numbers of polar bears, caribou, wolves and migratory birds.
"Unfortunately, this sham environmental impact statement ignores the overwhelming scientific evidence that demonstrates the unprecedented risks to wildlife that would result from drilling in the Coastal Plain," said Collin O'Mara, president of the National Wildlife Federation, a conservation group. "Alaskans, tribes and conservationists all agree that this is the wrong approach."