This week marks 57 years since Republican President Dwight Eisenhower first set aside what is now the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
But if today’s Republican leaders have their way the Refuge won’t make it to 58, at least not in the condition that President Eisenhower intended it to remain. As his Secretary of Interior Fred Seaton proclaimed:
For the wilderness explorer, whether primarily a fisherman, hunter, photographer or mountain climber, certain portions of the Arctic coast and the north slope river valleys, such as the Canning, Hulahula, Okpilak, Aichilik, Kongakut and Firth, and their great background of lofty mountains, offer a wilderness experience not duplicated elsewhere in our country.
Caribou at the base of the Brooks Range, Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. (Florian Schulz / www.florianschulz.org)
The tax bill now being negotiated by a House-Senate Conference Committee includes a controversial Senate provision that would mandate drilling in at least 800,000 acres of the coast and river valleys Eisenhower thought he had protected in perpetuity.
The key question is whether any centrist Republican members of Congress have the courage to draw a line in the tundra and insist that the drilling scheme be removed from the bill. Last week, we were encouraged to see a dozen Republicans in the House send a letter to leadership urging exactly that. It was the kind of letter that gives us some hope that the party of Eisenhower and Teddy Roosevelt, who created our National Wildlife Refuge System, still has a conservation ethic.
Also encouraging was a letter from several Republican luminaries including Teddy Roosevelt IV and Republican senior officials from four previous Republican administrations urging protection of the Refuge.
President Theodore Roosevelt, America’s 26th president, at Yellowstone National Park. (Houghton Library – Harvard College Library)
Still, talk can be cheap. President Donald Trump’s Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke claims to be an “unapologetic admirer” of Teddy Roosevelt yet championed the President’s effort to take more land out of protection than any President in history. Senator John McCain once championed the Refuge saying, “As far as ANWR is concerned, I don’t want to drill in the Grand Canyon, and I don’t want to drill in the Everglades. This is one of the most pristine and beautiful parts of the world.” Yet today Senator McCain is cheerleading, supporting and continuing to vote for a tax bill that contains the drilling scheme.
So who are the members of the House who can be as tough and far-sighted as Ike and Teddy and make clear that they will not vote for any tax bill with Arctic Refuge drilling? They are people like Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick from Bucks County, PA. He’s been voting consistently for the environment and can be a true conservation hero if he stands up and speaks out here. Take a look at this ad we are running in his and other districts.
The Porcupine Caribou Herd on the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. (Mladen Mates / Alaska Wilderness League)
They are people like Congressman Erik Paulsen from St. Paul, Minnesota, an avid outdoorsman who camps, canoes and hikes the Boundary Waters along the Minnesota-Canada border. He should be tough and insistent that the final bill exclude Arctic drilling.
They are people like Congressman Carlos Curbelo and Congresswoman Elise Stefanik who have been leaders in the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus. If that commitment to climate change is real then they will heed Bill McKibben’s plea and keep Arctic Refuge “oil and gas in the ground.”
And they are people like Dave Reichert from Washington State. For years he has championed the Refuge, and it was his leadership that played a large role in helping protect it in 2005. He is retiring next year, but is he willing to be a profile in courage again?
We will continue to implore these representatives to protect “America’s last great wilderness.” If they courageously stand in the breach and insist Arctic Refuge drilling be removed from the tax bill before they vote for it, they can not only save the day but will have restored some faith in millions of Americans that the GOP – the Party of Roosevelt and Eisenhower – still has conservation champions in its ranks.
Contact your members of Congress today and tell them to remove Arctic drilling from the tax package.