Despite the pandemic, the Trump administration is moving ahead with public hearings on the Willow project – a massive oil and gas development being pushed by ConocoPhillips – in the National Petroleum Reserve–Alaska. This project poses a significant threat to polar bears, caribou and hundreds of thousands of migratory birds stand to be affected. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will hold the last two virtual hearings today over Zoom, an online platform. Participants also can call in or watch a livestream of the hearings on Facebook.
Proceeding with these hearings during the COVID-19 health crisis undermines public interest values and the legitimacy of the BLM decision-making process for the Willow project. Emergency declarations by the State of Alaska, the North Slope Borough and the federal government are having significant disruptive effects on normal living and working conditions and impair the ability of the public to weigh in on the federal government actions that directly affect them. Additionally, many communities impacted by the Willow project don’t necessarily have the internet access to participate – likely shutting out important public participation in the process.
Nicole Whittington-Evans, Alaska program director, Defenders of Wildlife, issued the following statement:
“Wildlife and people are being short-changed. It is unconscionable that the Bureau of Land Management is moving forward with a massive oil and gas development during a global health emergency. The Trump administration should suspend all oil and gas planning processes, hearings and lease sales until this crisis is over.”