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Fixing a colossal mistake in the tax bill

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Oscar Wilde said, “Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes.” Let’s hope that a more “experienced” Congress will fix a monumental mistake included in the 2017 tax bill.

Just days before Christmas 2017, members of Congress stole a wildlife refuge in Alaska from the American people, and gift-wrapped it for their oil industry allies. They used an arcane procedure called budget reconciliation to sneak into the tax bill a provision opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil drilling. Although not an accident, it was definitely a mistake — allowing industrial-scale oil development there is short-sighted and irresponsible.  

{mosads}Our protected lands are protected for a reason: they’re too valuable to our natural legacy to sacrifice on the altar of oil. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is such a place, and Congress must fix its mistake before drills hit the ground.

In 2006, I traveled to the Refuge, one of the most truly pristine and wild places we collectively own as Americans. I saw golden eagles, caribou, brown bears, countless species of migratory birds and some of the most awe-inspiring landscapes I’ve seen anywhere.  Looking north from the foothills of the Brooks Range over the narrow expanse of the coastal plain to the Arctic Ocean, I had an unencumbered view of the biological heart of the entire 19 million acre refuge. This view has existed for thousands of years, and as a father, I hope that my generation is not the last to see it this way.

From a biological standpoint, the coastal plain is the most important part of the Refuge, yet that’s where the initial planning process for industrial oil drilling is happening. The coastal plain hosts one of the biggest, most spectacular wildlife migrations in the world each short Arctic summer, as birds from six continents and all 50 states flock there. Muskoxen utilize the coastal plain year around, while in winter, polar bears descend upon the plain to give birth while hibernating. On top of that, the 197,000-strong Porcupine Caribou herd (so named for the Porcupine River along its migration route) travels to the coastal plain to give birth to calves in relative safety from insects and predators, and to obtain the nourishment necessary to migrate south again.

But the Refuge amendment added into the tax law could change that. Industrial oil development on the Arctic coastal plain outside the Refuge has negatively impacted the calving rate of herds in those areas, and scientists predict it will have a similar impact on the Porcupine Caribou herd within the Refuge. Not only would drilling threaten wildlife, it also would threaten the Gwich’in, an indigenous people who depend on caribou for the majority of their sustenance, as well as for their entire culture and way of life.  

The folly of pillaging this national ecological treasure is even more apparent when you consider that in recent years, clean, renewable energy sources make up the majority of newly-installed capacity to our electric grid. With the rising demand for electric cars, the enhanced capacity of next-generation batteries to store solar energy, and the impressive efficiency of current PVC panels, it’s clear that the path to energy independence is already here and is brightly lit.  

The path does not go backward into the dirty fossil fuels of the 19th and 20th centuries, or toward the continued destruction of special and sacred places in search of oil. Our path lies forward, in clean renewable energy, and in the continued preservation of our nation’s most spectacular wilderness areas.  

To protect the Arctic Refuge, Congressional champions Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), along with Natural Resources Committee Ranking member Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Reps. Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.), Don McEachin (D-Va.), and Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) have introduced legislation repealing the part of the tax law that allows oil drilling. Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) is expected to introduce the companion bill soon. We encourage all senators and House members to join them.

Opinion polls have shown a majority of Americans are against development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. We hope that Congress listens to the people, and wisely chooses to repeal this short-sighted effort to squeeze oil from one of the most special wild places we have left. America’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge must be protected for future generations.     

Erik DuMont is the Stop Drilling Campaign Director for Environment America, focused on prioritizing conservation and protecting our natural heritage over fossil fuel extraction.

Tags Alan Lowenthal Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Ed Markey Jared Huffman Ruben Gallego

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