Washington DC - A coalition of environmental groups today called for Senate hearings on Interior Secretary Gale Norton's apparent attempt to mislead Congress by altering Fish and Wildlife Service data regarding the effects of oil drilling on caribou in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
In a letter sent this morning, Friends of the Earth, the National Wildlife Federation, Sierra Club, Alaska Wilderness League and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, among other groups, asked Senate Governmental Affairs Committee Chair Joseph Lieberman to convene hearings to investigate "the possible ethical and legal implications" of Secretary Norton's actions.
Last May, 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 the Arctic Refuge. Secretary Norton tasked FWS, the parent agency for the Arctic Refuge, with developing answers to those questions. The resulting FWS findings were transmitted to the Secretary's office, but when Norton officially replied to Murkowski's committee, many of the key data had been changed. New numbers, admittedly taken from oil-financed reports, replaced every reference to data that would argue against drilling in the Refuge.
In an appearance before the Society of Environmental Journalists last Friday, Secretary Norton admitted that she had made "mistakes" and would take "corrective actions" but declined to specify what she meant.
"Secretary Norton has broken the promise she made during her confirmation hearings to provide Congress with 'the best scientific evaluation of the environmental consequences' from oil development in the Refuge," said Eric Wingerter, National Field Director for PEER. "If the Administration is asking the Senate to vote on opening the Arctic Refuge to oil drilling, its representatives should submit to questioning, under oath, about the true effects of this action."
"Secretary Norton's credibility is clearly in question," said Adam Kolton, Arctic Campaign Director of the Alaska Wilderness League. "She misled Congress about the refuge's wildlife and now she's misleading the public about its oil potential and its potential impact on our energy security" said Kolton.