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Banks refusing to fund Arctic oil and gas projects may be discriminatory: Alaska lawmakers

Alaska's congressional delegation has asked federal regulators to investigate possible discrimination against Alaska Natives by large banks refusing to fund Arctic oil and gas projects.

Letter from officials says banks may be discriminating against people who depend on the industry

Five major American banks and several international banks have announced policies since November prohibiting or limiting investment in new oil and gas projects in the Arctic, including in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, pictured here. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/The Associated Press)

Alaska's congressional delegation has asked federal regulators to investigate possible discrimination against Alaska Natives by large banks refusing to fund Arctic oil and gas projects.

Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan and Rep. Don Young issued a letter Tuesday saying banks may be discriminating against Alaska Natives who depend on the oil and gas industry for their livelihoods, The Anchorage Daily News reported Wednesday.

The Republican members of Congress sent the letter to the head of the Federal Reserve, the comptroller of the currency and the chair of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

There was no immediate response from the agencies.

Five major American banks and several international banks have announced policies since November prohibiting or limiting investment in new oil and gas projects in the Arctic, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The banks include Citigroup Inc., Wells Fargo & Co., The Goldman Sachs Group Inc., JPMorgan Chase & Co., and Swiss bank UBS.

'Enacted without due diligence or consultation'

North Slope Borough Mayor Harry Brower Jr. wrote a letter published by the Wall Street Journal in January saying the banks' decision harms Alaska Natives in the area who rely on the sector.

"The way we see it, caring about the land and wildlife should also mean caring about the Indigenous people who inhabit the land," Brower wrote.

The letter from Murkowski, Sullivan and Young echoes the same themes and quotes Brower.

"At best these policies were enacted without due diligence or consultation with Alaska Native communities impacted by development in the Arctic," the letter said.

Some support the prohibition

Brower is among a group of Indigenous leaders opposed to the financing bans, but other Indigenous organizations and villages support the prohibition.

The Gwich'in Steering Committee, which advocates on behalf of 15 Gwich'in settlements in Alaska and Canada, has argued since the 1980s that drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge will harm caribou and subsistence harvests.

"We're glad to see America's largest bank recognize that the Arctic Refuge is no place for drilling," committee chairperson Bernadette Demientieff said of JPMorgan Chase in February.

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