(This piece originally appeared in The Hill.) Outside of issuing executive orders and rolling back environmental protections, the Trump administration has been proficient at very little sound policy — but it sure does know how to snuggle up to big business.
Last week will likely be remembered as the week President Trump turned his back on the planet, our climate and our children’s future. But pulling out of the Paris Agreement won’t be the only reason why. Just one day before the Paris climate announcement, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke held his own press conference to declare, “Alaska is open for business.”
Fall colors frame the Canning River in the Arctic Refuge (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Katrina Liebich)
His targets? Drilling in vital wildlife habitat and subsistence lands in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and National Petroleum Reserve.
A member of the Teshekpuk Lake Caribou Herd in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (Bureau of Land Management, Bob Wick)
In the Reserve, the administration seeks to dismantle a management plan the Interior Department spent years working on with the tribal community, local governments, the Western Arctic Caribou Herd Working Group and others. The deal is only a few years old and balances oil development with the protection of subsistence resources and the environment. Upsetting this carefully crafted plan is irresponsible, and a clear capitulation to the oil and gas industry.
The Teshekpuk Lake Special Area is critical to migratory birds and waterfowl (Richard Spener Photography)
For the Arctic Refuge, Trump has declared that the Coastal Plain — a pristine region and vibrant nursery for caribou, denning polar bears and countless migratory birds — is squarely in his sights.
The Zinke announcement shouldn’t be surprising, especially on the heels of the introduction of Trump’s 2018 budget proposal, which included a controversial line item assuming revenue from drilling in the Arctic Refuge. Upon the announcement, budget director Mick Mulvaney declared that opening the refuge was “a critical part of what we’re seeking to do, and it is a priority for the president.”
Wildflowers dot the tundra in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (Madhav Pai)
There is a failed history of presidential and congressional backdoor attempts to drill in the Arctic Refuge, and this latest one is no different.
During the past 30 years, Congress has voted nearly 50 times on whether or not to drill in the refuge, yet it remains protected. President Clinton vetoed drilling in 1995 and moderate Republicans opposed it in 2005.
These political victories were born from a long history of bipartisan support. Republican President Eisenhower set aside the refuge in 1960 to protect millions of acres for the purpose of “preserving unique wildlife, wilderness, and recreational values.” Since then, it has continued to be one of our nation’s most pristine and iconic national treasures, protected at all levels of government, by Republicans and Democrats alike.
According to recent polling by the Center on American Progress, two-thirds of Americans oppose drilling in the Arctic Refuge, with a majority — 52 percent — strongly opposed.
Rafting through the pristine Refuge wilderness is a once in a lifetime opportunity (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Jen Reed)
Yet, despite this support, President Trump and his administration seem to care more about lining the pockets of oil industry executives. Pro-drilling advocates say that we need the oil beneath the refuge to ensure energy security.
This is simply not true. Gas prices have been at historic lows, and the U.S. has been exporting oil at a record clip. Any assumed revenues from Arctic drilling are speculative and do not justify the damage it would do to this biologically unique place. Additionally, Trump’s budget proposes half of the profits from drilling will go right back into the state of Alaska’s coffers.
The Arctic Refuge — the Coastal Plain in particular — is a true cradle of life. Preserving it is a matter of basic human rights for the Gwich’in people, who deserve to live off their ancestral lands as they have for thousands of years. The Porcupine Caribou Herd, upon which the Gwich’in subsist, return here year after year to give birth to their young.
Polar bears on the coast of the Arctic Refuge, along the Beaufort Sea (Steven Kazlowski, www.lefteyepro.com)
Like Yellowstone, Yosemite and all the iconic places protected by generations before us, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge must be here for future generations to enjoy. Unparalleled throughout the world, the beauty of the Arctic Refuge belongs to all of us. We encourage both parties to continue coming together to work to protect this iconic landscape.
Attaching the Arctic Refuge to any must-pass legislation is a tired ploy that has historically failed every time. If history repeats itself, this time will be no different. Let’s stop this cyclical history and keep Arctic drilling off the table for good.