The wild and unspoiled northeastern corner of Alaska known as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has been protected from development for more than half a century, but that’s never stopped oil and gas companies from wanting to drill there. On several occasions, they’ve come dangerously close to succeeding. But now, thanks to the chaos of the Trump presidency, they may have their best shot yet.
The refuge is not just the largest true wilderness in the United States — in a way, it’s the only one. No place else in our nation — and very few in the world — still exists, as this one does, exactly as it has for millennia. Visit the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge today and what you see and experience will be the same as it was 100 or 1,000 years ago — the same lands and waters that Alaska natives like the Gwich’in people have long relied on for both literal and spiritual sustenance. You might see caribou, bears, or wolves. You could spot hundreds of different bird species and miles of wildflowers. But you’ll find no roads, no buildings, and definitely no drilling platforms.
America has nothing else quite like it, and we’ve never been closer to losing it.
What’s happening is yet another sneak attack on the Arctic. These attacks are always devious because the drilling advocates know that most people hate the idea of turning a wildlife refuge into an oil patch. Republicans in the House and Senate plan to open up the refuge to drilling by including revenues from oil lease sales in the Trump administration’s proposed 2018 budget. They figure the American people will never realize what’s happening. And given the unrelenting chaos currently assaulting us — from disasters both natural and elected — they could be right.
The House has already passed its refuge-killing version of the budget, so this will come down to what happens in the U.S. Senate (the only way President Trump, it’s safe to say, would oppose drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is if he thought he could build a golf course there instead). As happened with attempts to repeal the Affordable Healthcare Act, saving the refuge could depend on just one or two key votes. To save the refuge, we’ll need every Democratic senator and at least three moderate Republicans (yes, a few of those can still be found in Congress).
We’ve beaten tough odds to keep the despoilers at bay, and we can do it again, but it’s going to take an all-out effort. That means not only taking action yourself but also getting everyone you know to do the same. It’s a lot to ask when many of us are starting to feel the onset of “crisis fatigue.” But that’s exactly what the opposition is counting on. Let’s not prove them right this time, the next time, or any time.