Don’t exploit America’s public lands for oil exploration



September 5, 2019 - 10:37 AM

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska is in danger of being opened to oil and gas drilling.

In a blatantly cynical ploy to undo 35 years of preservation, the Republican controlled Congress in 2017 buried a provision in the GOP’s tax-cut bill to open portions of the 19 million-acre Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration. Never mind that the only people in the country backing the idea were energy companies, the politicians who do their bidding and the people who profit from them. In fact, a poll taken shortly after the vote found that only 35% of Americans supported opening ANWR to drilling.

President Trump, of course, and his political appointees at the Interior Department are among that 35% eager to despoil the near-pristine preserve that provides vital habitat for caribou, polar bears and other species of the north. Proponents note that the 1980 Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act designated a section known as the 1002 area as a site for future drilling should Congress approve it. But that’s a far cry from saying it must be open for drilling, and the balance of interests tilts decidedly toward leaving the region alone.

Yet recent reports indicate that officials in the Trump administration, some of whom came straight out of the industries from which they are supposed to be protecting the environment, have been rushing to auction off leases — no doubt with an eye to the election calendar and the current president’s poll numbers. In pushing to open ANWR to drilling, the Trump administration estimated two years ago that it would earn the federal government $1.8 billion in lease sales by 2027. The Congressional Budget Office said a few months later that it would be more like $1.1 billion; it has since reduced its estimate to $900 million. But a recent New York Times analysis put the likely federal revenue at $45 million, and the Taxpayers for Common Sense group put it even lower — about $20 million. Regardless of which of the numbers is correct, it’s a relatively paltry sum in return for significant risk of irreversible damage to a remote region that is crucial to so many species.

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