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U.S. Senate Tax Bill Includes Drilling in Arctic Refuge


WASHINGTON, D.C. - Attached to the Republican tax plan that passed the Senate on Friday was a provision that would open up 1.5 million acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. Republican lawmakers have been trying to allow drilling in the refuge for years.

But according to Marissa Knodel, Associate Legislative Council with the environmental law firm EarthJustice, the majority of Americans want the wilderness area left untouched.

Past efforts weren’t able to get the 60 votes needed to overcome a Democratic filibuster. But by attaching it to the tax bill, they were able to get it through with a simple majority.

“It has no place in the budget process, and this was really a backdoor mechanism for pro-drilling proponents to try and get it through must-pass legislation,” she says.

The House tax bill has no similar provision so it would have to be included in the reconciliation bill and passed by both houses before it would get to the president’s desk.

Sponsors of the bill say oil-field development in the refuge would be limited to 2,000 surface acres. But Knodel points out that the roads, pipelines and other infrastructure associated with drilling could be spread out across a large part of the refuge.

“All of that would have a significant environmental footprint that is not included in that 2,000-acre estimate,” she laments.

She says the area is home to polar bears, herds of caribou and a variety of migratory birds that could be affected by any exploration and drilling.

And while the coastal area of the refuge is remote wilderness that relatively few Americans are likely to visit, she adds that its value as wilderness is far greater than the oil that may lie beneath the surface.

“The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge belongs to all Americans,” she adds. “We all have a responsibility and stewardship to these special places that are just too wild, too special to drill in.”


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