Conservation groups and Senate Democrats have come together in hopes of thwarting Congressional Republicans' attempts to include a provision in the federal budget resolution that would allow drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in northeastern Alaska.
— Wilderness Society (@Wilderness) October 19, 2017
The legislation does not explicitly mention ANWR, but calls on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee to pass additional legislation to raise $1 billion over the next decade—which environmentalists and Democratic lawmakers warn would likely come from drilling for oil in the refuge that has been federally protected for the past 40 years.
In recent weeks, environmental, wildlife, and natural resources groups have sounded alarms about the importance of preserving ANWR. Conservationists Martin Roberts and George Schaller wrote in a New York Times op-ed published Thursday:
The Arctic refuge must continue to be preserved as a symbol of America's natural heritage. It remains a healthy ecosystem supporting wildlife, and native peoples as they adapt to profound climate-related changes. True wilderness holds a spiritual value that can nourish us. That is why the American public enjoys its national parks, monuments, and other protected areas.
There will always be pro-development forces and those with political agendas who are prepared to dismantle, cripple, gut, and destroy our natural heritage for short-term gain, heedless of the long-term cost to us as a civilization. In that effort they forget that everything we want, need and have comes from nature.
Congress should stop its headlong rush to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas exploration and extraction. Surely patriotism encompasses the protection of the most pristine and beautiful representations of America.
Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.)—joined by leaders of conservation organizations—gave a press conference on Tuesday to state their opposition to the ANWR provision.
Calling it "nothing more than a Big Oil polar payout," Markey also noted, "we are reaching out to Republicans to try to make this as bipartisan as we can." Securing support from GOP senators in favor the Democrats' amendment to protect ANWR will be necessary; because the provision is part of the budget, it could pass by a simple majority rather than 60 votes.
"It is unnecessary and simply wrong to destroy an incomparable wilderness that serves as our nation's most important polar bear nursery, provides essential habitat for the world-renowned Porcupine caribou herd and supports more than 200 species of migratory birds."
—Jamie Rappaport Clark, Defenders of Wildlife
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However, winning over Republicans could prove difficult, as demonstrated when Cantwell—the ranking Democrat on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee—rattled off recent moves by the Trump administration and GOP-led Congress to roll back environmental regulations and cater to interests of the oil and natural gas industry.
"We know that our public lands are under assault," she declared. "Now, on top of that, they're going to try to open up the most beautiful, pristine wildlife refuge that we have in the United States of America," Cantwell continued, vowing to "resist" Republican efforts "to turn public lands over to polluters, and to those who want to take away from taxpayers the unbelievable recreational opportunities that we hold so dear."
"Opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling won't balance the budget," said Defenders of Wildlife president and CEO Jamie Rappaport Clark, "but it will break the trust of the American people who object to a greedy few robbing us of our irreplaceable natural heritage."
"It is unnecessary and simply wrong to destroy an incomparable wilderness that serves as our nation's most important polar bear nursery, provides essential habitat for the world-renowned Porcupine caribou herd and supports more than 200 species of migratory birds," she said. "We stand with champions in the Senate in opposing this underhanded budget scam."