By Christine Todd Whitman
December 7, 2017
There are plenty of reasons to oppose the House and Senate “tax cut” proposals as currently configured — hundreds of thousands of families in the Northeast would actually see their taxes increase — but a little-known proposal tucked into the Fiscal Year 2018 Federal Budget Resolution should make the measure downright toxic to anyone who cares about honest government, long-established wildlife protections and common sense.
Both the House and Senate versions of the budget quietly include anticipated, and grossly exaggerated, revenue from oil and gas drilling on the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, an extraordinary national treasure set aside for protection by Republican President Dwight Eisenhower in 1960. Since that time, oil company interests have repeatedly sought to open ANWR to lease drilling, only to be rebuffed by Republicans and Democrats alike in Congress who rightly maintained that our treasured national wildlife preserves must remain sacrosanct.
Including ANWR drilling in the budget resolution is nothing more than an end-run around federal law, and Republicans of good conscience must demand its removal from the budget during the upcoming budget resolution talks. Any discussions about ANWR must occur as a separate, standalone debate — if at all.
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The cost of defiling one of America’s last great wildlife preserves to drill for oil and gas so far outweighs any potential economic benefit to the public as to render the notion absurd. America has no shortage of oil and gas resources. Indeed, it now exports energy to other nations, and the yield from ANWR drilling would represent an infinitesimal fraction of annual world energy production. Oil and gas executives would stand to make billions of dollars in profits by drilling in what is arguably America’s greatest last wildlife sanctuary, but annual tax revenue from such a project is estimated in the low millions of dollars — in a $4 trillion federal budget!
Is it really worth selling our souls for that?
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is home to musk oxen, wolves, imperiled polar bears, the magnificent Porcupine caribou herd, and nearly 200 species of birds that migrate to six continents and all 50 states. It has been home to the native Gwich’in people — full American citizens — who have relied on its resources to sustain their way of life for thousands of years before European explorers set foot on American shores.
Protecting ANWR and its majestic wildlife from oil and gas development has long enjoyed the overwhelming support of the American people, as it still does. The Arctic Refuge stands as a symbol of our nation’s strong and enduring natural legacy, and Americans have always understood that our national promise to protect it is a promise that must be honored by each succeeding generation, if it is to survive.
The public should also understand that this year’s proposed end run around established law could set a catastrophic precedent for commercial development on other protected federal lands. That is no empty prediction; it would almost certainly happen.
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.
Republicans in Congress must remove this underhanded assault on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from the final federal budget bill. Generations of Americans are relying on them to do what’s right. They are watching them.
The writer served as governor of New Jersey from 1994-2001 and as administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under President George W. Bush.