Buried in the tax bill is a shameful and economically irresponsible rider to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling. This pristine corner of Alaska has been protected for generations, but one senator is trying to hand over one of the last untouched places in our country to Big Oil.
Reps. Patrick Meehan, Ryan Costello, and Brian Fitzpatrick understand that this special place should remain protected, writing in a letter to Republican leadership that "the Arctic Refuge stands as a symbol of our nation's strong and enduring natural legacy." We appreciate their stance.
Now it's time for our representatives to put their word into action. Drilling in the Arctic Refuge has no place in the tax bill and Meehan, Costello, and Fitzpatrick need to stand strong and vote against this shameful sellout to the oil and gas industry.
The Arctic drilling rider shouldn't have been a part of the tax bill the first place. Let's be very clear: Drilling in the Arctic Refuge is immoral, financially dishonest, and deeply unpopular. Any vote to open the refuge to drilling is both politically toxic and profoundly wrong. Members will be held accountable for their votes.
Bipartisan polling shows that Pennsylvanians overwhelmingly oppose drilling — ranging from 63 percent opposed in Meehan's district to 58 in Costello's and 57 in Fitzpatrick's. And not only is drilling in the Arctic unpopular, but a vote to open the Arctic Refuge to drilling will generate a massive backlash — between 52 and 62 percent of Philadelphia-area constituents say they would be less favorable toward their member of Congress if he voted to drill.
The special interests behind this plan claim that drilling in the Arctic Refuge will bring about a financial windfall, worth the risk to a pristine and vast ecosystem. But the most recent lease sale near the refuge went for just $14.99 per acre, suggesting that drilling in the refuge would raise nowhere near what drilling supporters claim it will. And what it would raise amounts to mere pennies compared with the tax bill's massive price tag.
Drilling in the Arctic Refuge makes neither economic nor moral sense. The refuge is one of the largest remaining intact ecosystems in the world and the largest national wildlife refuge in the United States. It is home to an incredible assortment of wildlife, including caribou, wolves, nearly 200 species of migratory birds, and is a crucial habitat for vulnerable polar bears. Drilling would require a massive influx of infrastructure that would have devastating impacts on the fragile ecosystem. Potential spills and chronic oil leaks would threaten the livelihood of the Gwich'in people who have depended on the refuge for centuries and would compromise the well-being of the wildlife that call the area home.
The bottom line — handing the Arctic Refuge over to the oil industry would devastate a massive ecosystem, with no benefits to the majority of families and communities in this country.
Christine Todd Whitman, the former Republican EPA administrator and New Jersey governor, has spoken out forcefully against drilling, noting that "Republican presidents including Teddy Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower had the extraordinary foresight to protect precious slivers of America's vanishing wilderness from being bulldozed out of existence. They did it so that subsequent generations of Americans could hold onto one last vestige of an American wilderness that has stirred our blood and captured the imagination of every young American."
Reps. Costello, Meehan, and Fitzpatrick: Please prove that there are still Republicans willing to protect our wild places for future generations. Words are not enough – we need you to vote against any tax bill that drills in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Josh McNeil is executive director of Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania. Jacquelyn Bonomo is president and CEO of PennFuture.