October 19, 2001
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility leveled serious charges against U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Gale Norton about her statements this summer before a U.S. Senate committee concerning oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
The charges come at a crucial time in the fight over ANWR, as the U.S. House of Representatives approved drilling in ANWR in August as part of a larger energy bill. The events of Sept. 11 have eroded much of the opposition to drilling in ANWR, thus putting environmental groups on the defensive.
According to PEER, Norton substantially altered biological findings from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service about effects of oil development in ANWR before she relayed them to Congress.
On May 15, 2001, U.S. Sen. Frank Murkowski, then chair of the Energy & Natural Resources Committee, asked Norton for the Department of Interior’s official assessment of the impacts of oil drilling on the porcupine caribou herd in ANWR. Norton directed the USFWS to develop replies to questions of impacts, and USFWS findings were conveyed to her office. However, Norton’s official reply to Sen. Murkowski on July 11 was markedly different from the scientific input she had received, said PEER.
While USFWS noted that “there have been PCH [porcupine caribou herd] calving concentrations within the 1002 Area in 27 of the last 30 years,” Interior changed those numbers, said PEER, to report: “Concentrated calving occurred primarily outside of the 1002 Area in 11 of the last 18 years.”
USFWS also reported, said PEER, that calving reproductive “pauses” (years that females do not produce a calf) is higher in developed areas in Prudhoe Bay than in undisturbed areas. However, the Department of the Interior left this data out, contended PEER, and stated that “Parturition and recruitment data do not support the hypothesis that oil fields adversely affect caribou productivity.”
PEER also pointed out that Secretary Norton said, “There is no evidence that the seismic exploration activities or the drilling of the Kaktovik Inupiat Corporation exploratory well . . . have had any significant negative impact on the Porcupine caribou herd,” but she omitted the USFWS disclaimer that “no studies were conducted to determine the effects of the above activities on the PCH.”
“It appears Secretary Norton misled Congress and broke her pledge to faithfully convey the ‘best science’ on the Arctic Refuge,” said PEER National Field Director Eric Wingerter. “Unless Ms. Norton was the victim of her own overzealous staff, she should have the decency to resign.”
A page on PEER’s Web site compares the USFWS’ and Norton’s answers to Murkowski’s questions.