Why the future of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge matters to Missouri

Arctic Refuge drilling plan pushes oil at a time when we must get off of it.

Clean air

Bridget Sanderson

Former State Director, Environment Missouri

When you look out your window in Missouri, the northern reaches of Alaska are probably not the first thing you think about. But maybe you should. The reason: So many of the beautiful birds you see in your backyard likely migrated to our state from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. While it’s something we may take for granted, if you appreciate these beautiful creatures, now is the time to pay attention to this special place. 

You see, the Trump administration recently finalized plans to begin oil leasing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which puts those birds and so many other things we hold dear at risk. Often called “America’s last great wilderness,” the refuge covers approximately 19.3 million acres, but features no roads or other human infrastructure. Along with being the part-time home to birds from six continents, and all fifty states, including the American Pipit, it is where three species of North American bear, as well as caribou, musk oxen, Dall sheep, moose, wolves, arctic foxes and walrus all live. 

But last week the Federal Bureau of Land Management announced a slapdash and tragic plan to open all 1.56 million acres of the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas development. 

This decision would be catastrophic for the 900 polar bears that call the coastal plain home. Oil and gas exploration in the refuge raises massive concerns about den abandonment, harming young and vulnerable cubs. Beyond that, the Arctic Refuge provides calving ground for the Porcupine Caribou Herd, which the indigenous Gwich’in people have depended on as a central part of their way of life for thousands of years. Finally, the plan would threaten sixty-nine species of birds with extinction

This is wrong for the country and for Missouri. 

For too long, our federal leaders have prioritized the extraction of resources far more than the protection of wild places. Now, with the federal government showing a willingness to bulldoze a national treasure in Alaska, why wouldn’t they do it right here in Missouri? 

We simply can’t let that happen, so Environment Missouri has joined with others to sue the Trump administration over the plan.  

We’ve gotten involved because to do otherwise would not only lead to the desecration of an American jewel, but would also set a perilous precedent for oil and gas across America. Simply put, this plan is completely blind to the reality that, in 2020, dangerously extracting more fossil fuels from the ground is a fool’s errand when clean renewable energy options are rapidly on the rise

Right here in Kansas City, the City Council updated its Climate Protection Plan in May 2020, setting a target for 100 percent renewable energy. A total of seven states—Hawaii, California, New Mexico, Maine, New YorkWashington and Virginia—are also in tune with the changing times and have passed similar pledges. These serious-minded commitments provide a crucial push to transition away from fossil fuels towards clean energy. It also signals what kind of world we Missourians want to create and live in. 

We cannot continue to commit to 19th-century fossil fuel technology for a half-century and still hope to make the changes required to comprehensively usher in 21st-century clean energy. But that is exactly what U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt is suggesting. Following his department’s announcement, the secretary said that oil production could begin in the refuge in eight years and last for 50 years.  

Our national leaders must embrace what Kansas City leaders are doing — embrace a future filled with renewable energy and clean transportation options. At the same time, we desperately need more nature in our lives, which are made richer with backyard birds from the North returning each year and knowing that polar bears are safely denning on the north slope of Alaska. 

We need to ensure that the Arctic stays wild.


Bridget Sanderson is the Director of Environment Missouri, which works for clean air, clean water, clean energy, wildlife and open spaces, and a livable climate. Our members across the state put grassroots support behind our research and advocacy. Environment Missouri’s mission is to transform the power of our imaginations and our ideas into change that makes our world a greener and healthier place for all.  Environment Missouri is part of Environment America, a national network of 29 state environmental groups.


Bridget Sanderson

Former State Director, Environment Missouri