Washington, DC – Interior Secretary Gale Norton substantially altered biological findings from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) concerning effects of oil development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) before she transmitted them to Congress, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
On May 15, 2001, Senator Frank Murkowski, then Chair of the Energy & Natural Resources Committee, asked Norton for Interior’s official assessment of the impacts of oil drilling on the Porcupine caribou herd in ANWR. Secretary Norton tasked FWS, the parent agency for ANWR, with developing answers to those questions. The resulting FWS findings were transmitted to the Secretary’s office. However, Norton’s official reply to Senator Murkowski on July 11 was markedly different from the scientific input she had received.
The extensive changes made by Norton belie her repeated promises during Senate confirmation to “provide [Congress] the best scientific evaluation of the environmental consequences..[of] any exploration and production” in the Refuge:
Changing Numbers: While FWS 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 to say “Concentrated calving occurred primarily outside of the 1002 Area in 11 of the last 18 years.” [emphases added]
Ignoring Key Data: FWS reported that calving reproductive “pauses” (years that females do not produce a calf) is higher in developed areas in Prudhoe Bay than in undisturbed areas. Interior leaves this data out and states that “Parturition and recruitment data do not support the hypothesis that oil fields adversely affect caribou productivity.”
Spinning Absence of Data: Secretary Norton stated that “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 FWS 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,” stated PEER National Field Director Eric Wingerter. “Unless Ms. Norton was the victim of her own overzealous staff, she should have the decency to resign.”
Copies of all referenced documents are available upon request.
Read the comparison between Norton’s statements and Fish & Wildlife Service’s statements to Congress. Read The Conflicting Letters: Interior Letter and FWS Letter