Arctic refuge: With no good reason to drill, Gardner should oppose oil lease sales in ANWR

Monday, Nov. 13, 2017 3:04 PM
A herd of musk ox graze in an area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, known as Area 1002, in this undated file photo. (AP Photo/Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, File)

President Donald Trump and many of his colleagues in Washington seem to have no affinity for landscapes any wilder than the rough on a golf course.

Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., knows better, and he should oppose any move to allow energy development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The current plan is being pushed through the Senate budget reconciliation process as a way to offset revenue lost through proposed tax cuts.

But according to a recent Bloomberg story, because of low oil prices, lease sales in ANWR are likely to garner only $145.5 million over the next decade. Analysis by the Center for American Progress estimates just $37.5 million over 10 years. Either way, that’s a small fraction of the $1 billion windfall the GOP had hoped to reap from opening ANWR, and much farther from the president’s estimate of $3.6 billion.

With that budgetary hope deflated, there is no good reason to drill in the refuge, which is one of the last truly wild landscapes in the United States.

On the ANWR side of the ledger, vast herds of caribou migrate and calve there, and the ecosystem is also home to wolves, polar bears, arctic fox and, for a brief period each year, almost 200 species of migratory birds. It has long sustained Alaskan Native populations that depend on the caribou and consider the land sacred.

It is a fragile ecosystem that would be forever degraded, if not completely destroyed, by energy extraction.

The refuge is both unique and irreplaceable, which is why both the public and bipartisan majorities in Congress have rejected drilling proposals there for nearly three decades.

Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., led the effort that Sen. Gardner voted against (which failed) to remove the drilling provision from the budget process for its economic flaws.

Writing to the Budget Committee, six moderate House Republicans joined in the dissent, saying the issue “does not belong in a responsible budgeting process.”

Nor should drilling in the Arctic be included in any responsible environmental policymaking process. On Nov. 3, 13 federal agencies released an authoritative assessment of climate change science concluding, “based on extensive evidence, that it is extremely likely that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases, are the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.”

On the energy side of the issue, there’s no compelling reason to drill. The U.S. does not need the oil that ANWR could provide, now or even a decade from now. If a shortage existed, prices would not be so low that oil companies cannot profit by drilling there.

The sale of drilling leases won’t go far toward balancing the tax-cut equation, though passing mining royalty reform and curbing subsidies for oil companies certainly would.

Future energy development investments and revenue proposals should look different. This is a national treasure, and Gardner should oppose any move to sell oil leases there.