Adam Kolton, an environmentalist and longtime defender of Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge against oil and gas development, died in a hospital in Bethesda, Maryland on April 26. He was 53 and lived in Bethesda.
The cause was cancer, his wife Laura said.
Through his work with two Washington, DC-based conservation groups, the Alaska Wilderness League and the National Wildlife Federation, Mr. Kolton was at the forefront of the fight to protect the refuge, a pristine wilderness the size of South Carolina that existed long ago. appreciated by Alaska oil companies and legislators.
Part of the Arctic Ocean refuge – a coastal plain frequented by polar bears, migrating caribou and other wildlife – is believed to be over billions of barrels of oil.
Over the years, Mr. Kolton pursued his goal with members of Congress and White House officials from both parties. On frequent visits to Alaska, he also worked with indigenous groups, including the Gwich & # 39; in, who live near the refuge.
"He was the mastermind of Arctic defense strategy for 20 years," said Collin O'Mara, president of the National Wildlife Federation, where Mr. Kolton worked from 2002 to 2017. "His fingerprints were everywhere."
The Alaska Wilderness League hired Mr. Kolton in 1997, and a few years later he helped repulse the efforts of Congressional Republicans, backed by President George W. Bush's administration, to facilitate exploratory drilling for oil and gas in the coastal plain.
At one point, Republicans tried to include a drilling provision in a budget bill. That didn't go anywhere, as some moderate Republicans preferred to protect the refuge.
Mr. Kolton remained wary, worried Republicans might try to "sneak" a provision into other legislation, as he told The New York Times. "Unfortunately, there are countless ways they could try to defy the will of the American people," he said.
Adam Michael Kolton was born on February 20, 1968 in Chicago and grew up in Westfield, NJ, where his mother, Carol (Abbot) Kolton, was a social worker and his father, Chet Kolton, was president of a plastic and packaging manufacturer. Adam is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin, majoring in history and journalism.
Besides his wife, he is survived by his parents; a sister, Lisa Kolton; and two sons, Samuel and Jacob.
It was during a summer in college that Mr. Kolton first developed a love of the outdoors when he got a job as a servant at a lodge in Yellowstone National Park. He later wrote that while he didn't like the job, "the reward was taking nearly three days off every week to experience this mesmerizing landscape, its wildlife, geothermal features and more."
His first contact with Congress, however, was for baseball, not the environment. A rabid fan of the New York Mets since childhood, and alarmed by the high cost of watching games, in the early 1990s he and a friend formed what he brutally described as & # 39; the largest nonprofit for fans. of the land & # 39 ;. (That was correct, although it only had 3,000 members.)
Then came the 1994 baseball strike and a canceled season. Mr. Kolton was invited to testify at a House hearing on the repeal of baseball's long-standing exemption from antitrust laws, which he viewed as a "giant letter of consent" to make team owners treat fans with contempt.
Sit with other witnesses, including Bud Selig, the baseball commissioner, Mr. Kolton told the House panel that it was frustrating to be constantly told that the exemption only mattered to owners and players. "Mr. Chairman," he said with a confidence that contradicts his young age, "this is a public policy issue that is overwhelmingly preoccupying the American people."
Within a few years, the Arctic refuge, and protecting it, became his obsession. In a 2001 article in The Times announcing their marriage, Ms. Kolton described her first meeting with the man who would become her husband at a New Year's Eve party in New York three years earlier.
“We started talking about politics and he gave me his best pitch on the need to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge,” Ms. Kolton told The Times. He mentioned some legislation, and while she wasn't familiar with it, she was playing along because I thought he was cute.
Mr. Kolton left the Wilderness League in 2002 for the National Wildlife Federation and eventually became the Vice President for National Advocacy. In addition to the refuge, he worked on the protection of public land elsewhere, on the policy reform of the Army Corps of Engineers, and other issues.
He returned to the Wilderness League in 2017, as Executive Director – in time for his 2001 worries about the & # 39; sneaking & # 39; of a drilling provision become reality in legislation. Republicans, backed by the administration of President Donald J. Trump, participated in Congress's comprehensive tax bill in 2017, which established a program to sell oil and gas leases on the coastal plain. The legislation passed both chambers.
Mr. Kolton knew that "Arctic politics is so precarious," said Tom Campion, a longtime Wilderness League board member. "You have to win every time. You lose once and it's over."
Although it wasn't quite over this time. The optimist, Mr. Kolton, continued to fight along with other environmentalists. The Wilderness League was one of a number of groups to sue the Trump administration, arguing that environmental assessments of the impact of a hire purchase were hasty and flawed. And Mr. Kolton was instrumental in developing a new strategy to keep oil rigs out of hiding, Mr. Mara said, by pressuring banks not to lend money to oil companies for projects there.
A lease purchase was eventually held in the closing days of the Trump White House. But with many legal questions about the trial still unresolved, and President Biden opposed drilling into the shelter, the area remains off-limits to the oil rigs for now.
Representative Jared Huffman, a California Democrat who has led much of congressional opposition to development in the refuge, said Mr. Kolton & # 39; understood that protecting the refuge encompassed the full set of instruments, including the public opinion and advocacy in Congress and in the courts.
"His thoughtful and relentless work," he said, "is a major reason why, despite endless pressure to open up these areas to oil and gas development, it hasn't happened yet."