For Immediate Release
Arctic Refuge Drilling Advances Despite Strong Opposition
WASHINGTON – Today the Senate voted down a vigorously debated amendment to prevent Congress from advancing destructive drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as part of a multi-step budget process that is intended to be the basis for tax reform. Last month, a leaked Department of the Interior memorandum also revealed the Trump administration’s own plans to illegally roll back restrictions on oil and gas exploration in the Arctic refuge. Recently, the House also narrowly passed a budget resolution that includes Arctic refuge drilling despite bipartisan opposition to the provision. The upcoming congressional budget reconciliation process is now the final opportunity to remove the Arctic refuge drilling authorization from the budget.
This vote shows that the Senate would reject Arctic refuge drilling if this poison pill had not been snuck into a budget process that is not subject to regular legislative procedure, as standalone legislation opening the Arctic refuge to drilling would be subject to a filibuster. The following statement is from Jamie Rappaport Clark, president and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife:
“It is unconscionable that Congress is using the budget process to gain access to one of America’s last great wilderness landscapes. We look to legislators to strip this extraneous and controversial provision from the budget and save this vital wildlife refuge from the ravages of oil drilling. Congressional leaders need to make a choice: reject using the budget to ram through the Arctic refuge drilling agenda, or allow it to further complicate tax reform legislation.
“Right now polar bear mothers are preparing to hibernate and give birth on the coastal plain in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Already contending with climate change, today’s vote casts their future into even greater doubt. Hundreds of bird species, as well as a vast caribou herd, muskoxen and wolves also stand to lose from drilling in the refuge. Enough already.”
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge comprises 19.6 million acres of public lands in northeastern Alaska. President Dwight D. Eisenhower first set aside much of the refuge in 1960. Congress affirmed and expanded the refuge in the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act in 1980. Now about the size of South Carolina, the Arctic refuge preserves one of the largest intact ecosystems in the world. Approximately 40 percent of the refuge, mostly in the Brooks Range, is designated as wilderness to help permanently protect this treasured landscape.
The Arctic refuge contains vital nesting habitat for hundreds of species of migratory birds from all 50 states and six continents; the most important onshore denning habitat for threatened polar bears
in the United States; spawning streams for Dolly Varden and other valued fish species; and room to roam for caribou, wolves, muskoxen, Dall sheep, Arctic foxes and many more species.
Most of the Arctic refuge’s coastal plain is designated critical habitat for imperiled polar bears. Mother polar bears with cubs are increasingly dependent on this area as sea ice melts due to a warming climate. The coastal plain is also the principal calving ground for the nearly 200,000-strong Porcupine caribou herd, which migrates hundreds of miles to birth and raise their young in the refuge each year.
The coastal plain, where drilling would occur, is the biological heart of the refuge. Oil development would irreparably damage this vital landscape. The wilderness and habitat values would be forever destroyed by an industrial complex, replete with oil spills, leaks and pollution. Pipelines, drill rigs, buildings and other infrastructure accompanied by the noise of industrial development would threaten iconic wildlife and imperil sensitive species that call the refuge home. The Arctic refuge may be far away, but the impacts of drilling there would put polar bears, caribou, musk oxen and many other species that depend on the coastal plain at risk, and could affect ecosystems throughout the United States.
Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With over 1.8 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit Newsroom.Defenders.org and follow us on Twitter @DefendersNews.