Tucked away in the questionable math and egregious accounting tricks that make up President Trump’s first budget proposal is a provision that underscores a troubling trend for this administration — selling out public lands to the oil and gas industry.
Trump’s budget proposes opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling in order to generate a speculative $1.8 billion for the general treasury. This was a bad idea in the 1980s and '90s, and it's a bad idea now.
Drilling in the Alaskan refuge would not only exploit one of the last untouched, wild places in America, but it would also be a shortsighted solution to an imaginary problem.
The Arctic refuge is an incredible place. First protected in 1960 by Republican President Eisenhower, the refuge provides calving grounds for thousands of caribou and is home to more than 200 species of migratory birds who, every spring, mate and raise their young. The Gwich’in people call the region’s Coastal Plain “the sacred place where life begins.”
Oil and gas development — even with the smallest of footprints — would compromise the pristine wilderness with a web of pipelines, roads and other infrastructure. And despite industry claims that it can be done safely and with minimal impact, the track record in Alaska shows otherwise, with approximately 2,000 spills of oil and other hazardous materials occurring every year.
What’s most galling about Trump’s proposal is that, outside of a budget ploy, it’s wholly unnecessary. In Alaska, promising new oil fields in the National Petroleum Reserve west of Prudhoe Bay are beginning to come online. In the lower 48 states, the biggest oil plays are on private and state lands that hold the vast majority of our nation’s oil and gas shales.
On public lands, the oil and gas industry is already sitting on a glut of oil and gas leases and permits. Less than half of federal acreage under lease is currently producing, and there are more than 14 million acres of unused leases on federal lands. Last year, industry bid on less than a quarter of federal acreage offered for lease at auction.
Opening up the refuge to drilling would only add to the oil and gas industry’s massive surplus of leases and permits, and makes zero sense in light of the broader market forces that are trending toward cheaper, cleaner energy sources. What’s more, such a move is unpopular — recent polling by the Center for American Progress shows that Americans oppose drilling in the refuge by a factor of 2-to-1.
As the budget now moves to Capitol Hill, Americans should be aware that any attempt to sneak the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge into the budget process has nothing to do with the budget, but everything to do with the influence and power of the oil lobby. Congress should continue to protect the refuge from these backdoor attempts and strike any drilling language from must-pass legislation.
Notably, this is not the first time the Trump administration has moved to sell out the nation’s outdoor heritage to help line the pockets of the oil and gas industry. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke is currently conducting a review of all national monuments designated since 1996, with a legally unsound view to revoke or shrink them.
Undermining the Antiquities Act — the law that enables presidents to designate national monuments — is one of the American Petroleum Institute’s priorities. And it’s no coincidence that many of the monuments in the cross-hairs — such as Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante in Utah and Canyon of the Ancients in Colorado — have significant oil and gas or mineral reserves that the industry has openly expressed interest in developing.
Beyond drilling in the Arctic refuge, there are other shortsighted energy proposals included in Trump’s budget, including selling half of the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve to generate revenue. The stockpile of oil — nearly 700 million barrels —was set aside four decades ago to be used in emergencies, kind of like a security blanket against global price shocks and supply disruptions.
Selling off our nation’s energy insurance policy (especially when oil prices are low) to cover Trump’s severe budget cuts would be a bad deal for taxpayers, and exposes the U.S. to greater risks in the event of an energy crisis.
Instead of relying on fossil fuel budget gimmicks that could have long-term devastating consequences for the nation, a smart budget would invest in the future by advancing clean energy and protecting public lands and waters that sustain local economies.
Let’s hope Congress can get it right.
Kate Kelly (@katepkelly) is the Public Lands Director at the Center for American Progress. She previously was a senior advisor in the Department of the Interior during the Obama administration.
The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.