Talk about a poison pill: Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski snuck a nasty little legislative proposal into the GOP tax bill. Her plan would open up portions of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil leases, allowing oil companies to start extracting oil from this vital natural resource. And last week, the bill cleared an important hurdle at the Senate Committee on Energy and Commerce.
Republicans are taking advantage of the budget reconciliation process to ram through their tax plan: If they can develop legislation that reduces the federal deficit, it can pass on a simple majority — allowing them to muster just 51 votes, rather than 60. To make their tax plan a success, they need to “reconcile” the budget with changes in order to meet their goal.
You’ve probably heard that the GOP is trying to use this process to attack health care, but that’s not the only place the party is looking to either cut or raise revenue.
Enter Murkowski, with a plan the Congressional Budget Office says could raise up to one billion dollars: opening a portion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge known as 1002 Area to oil exploitation.
She says this plan will protect natural resources and benefit Alaska, all while raising much-needed funds. Murkowski even magnanimously agreed to waive the usual Alaska/federal government split on oil revenues, offering 50 percent of revenues instead of the typical 10 percent to the federal government.
That’s good news to the Trump administration and the Department of the Interior, which have expressed interest in overturning Obama-era bans on drilling in the 19 million acre refuge.
Such leases are part of a larger federal framework that allows the government to permit people to use natural resources on public land — that’s owned by you and me — in exchange for a leasing fee. Oil leases are a common example, but people can also lease grazing rights, mineral rights and more.
Advocates maintain that these leases raise important funds, though some critics argue that public lands should be left pristine. In the case of ANWR, many are worried about over 200 migratory bird species, eight marine mammal species, 37 land mammal species and 42 fish species, in addition to a beautiful natural landscape.
Defenders of Wildlife argues that drilling, even isolated to a small region of the refuge, could be tremendously disruptive to fragile species. The passage of vehicles, equipment, and humans may frighten wildlife and create seismic issues, while leaks — an ever-present issue — could harm the environment.Even though Murkowski says she has the support of some Alaska Natives, others aren’t so sure, pointing to the experiences of other communities affected by oil development.
And the story gets even more complex: While Murkowski and her GOP ilk present this as a done deal — pending competitive bidding, of course — oil companies might not even want to participate.
From a fiscal perspective, oil and gas development in Alaska isn’t profitable or competitive, and oil companies aren’t even taking advantage of the leases they already have access to. The Center for American Progress argues that this move could effectively subsidize oil and gas development in Alaska, which would create an unfair advantage over other states involved in oil and gas extraction — hardly free market forces at work.
Drilling in ANWR isn’t good for the environment or for communities in Alaska — even those struggling with high poverty who might see this as a tempting easy payoff. It’s also not particularly beneficial to oil companies.
Oil and gas extraction doesn’t belong in ANWR. You can contact your senators to express your concerns about this element of the GOP tax plan, and tell them you don’t want tax cuts for corporations and the rich to take place at the expense of the environment.
Urge Congress to vote against any budget that supports Arctic Refuge drilling by signing this Care petition.
This article was first published by Care2.com on 21 Nov 2017.
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