The House Committee on Natural Resources recently approved the Arctic Cultural and Coastal Plain Protection Act by a vote of 22 to 14. The bill repeals a provision in the 2017 tax law that allows for oil and drilling for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The approval is the last committee step for the bill before a vote by the House floor.
“The Arctic Cultural and Coastal Plain Protection Act reflects a simple proposition, and that is there are some places too wild, too important, too special to be spoiled by oil and gas development. The Arctic Refuge Coastal Plain is one of those special places,” said Rep. Huffman during the Committee hearing.
Huffman made it clear that the bill will not “roll-back oil and gas development elsewhere in the state” nor will it stop “activities in the neighboring National Petroleum Reserve.” What it does, he said, is “simply restore the Arctic Refuge to the status it had before the Republican tax bill of 2017.”
The Arctic Refuge Coastal Plain is 19 million acres, the largest wildlife preserve in the U.S. There are over 200 different wildlife species in the refuge and that includes birds that migrate from it to other parts of the U.S. Oil and gas drilling threatens the refuge and the animals and plants that dwell there.
The species in the refuge include oxen, polar bears and caribou, which the National Resources Defence Council (NRDC) calls the “lifeblood of traditional Gwich’in Native cultural survival.” As Bernadette Demientieff, the executive director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee, said in a statement, “The coastal plain is sacred to the Gwich’in people and critical to our food security and way of life. It is no place for heavy machinery and destructive seismic testing.”
During President Trump’s first year in office, his administration held the largest onshore oil and gas lease in the National Petroleum Reserve, which is near the refuge. The Interior Department is seeking to change the rules that protect much of the reserve from oil and gas drilling by releasing an updated government management plan.
A recent report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) find that about one million animal and plant species are threatened with extinction, and many of them could become extinct within decades. The average abundance of native species in the majority of land-based habitats has decreased by at least 20 percent and most of that decrease has occurred since 1900.
A coalition of environmental groups that include the NRDC, Sierra Club, Alaska Wilderness League, and the National Audubon Society issued a statement supporting the bill to stop oil and gas drilling in the refuge. “This bill will restore protections stripped by a provision of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that mandates leasing for oil and gas development on the Arctic Refuge coastal plain,” the coalition declared. “ That grossly unfair provision was sold to the public on false pretenses and jammed through Congress using budgetary tricks that eliminated any opportunity for a full, fair and open debate.”
Concerned Americans can take action to support the bill and the refuge by signing the petition by the Alaska Wilderness League which thanks the House Natural Resources Committee for passing the Arctic Cultural and Coastal Plain Protection Act out of committee. Let Congress know you support legislation to protect the refuge.