The Senate Just Opened the Door for Drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

The tax scheme protects the oil and gas industry while cutting clean energy initiatives and destroying millions of acres of nature.


Today the Senate voted to approve a $1.5 trillion tax bill that would, for the first time ever, allow drilling in Alaska’s pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, 19.6 million acres of spectacular, unspoiled nature—the country’s largest and wildest publicly owned reserve.

The plan also includes sizable subsidies for the oil and gas industry and slashes federal investments in clean energy efforts that aim to combat the growing danger of climate change.

“It’s a sorry day for the country,” says NRDC’s president, Rhea Suh. “This blows out the debt to enrich those who least need it—and leaves our kids to pay the price.”

Indeed, the tax scheme is heavily skewed toward helping big business and the wealthy—and pads the profits of polluters. A 2012 study by NRDC and the Center for American Progress found that oil and gas companies alone receive $8 billion in tax benefits every year, and the Trump administration has been increasing those benefits with recent actions to lower royalty rates paid to the government.

Today’s decision “throws open the majestic and ecologically invaluable Arctic Refuge to irreversible and destructive exploitation by oil and gas drillers,” Suh says. “And it spares billions for yesterday’s dirty fuels as it cuts investment for clean homegrown energy.”

This fall, congressional Republicans proposed drilling in the Arctic Refuge (and other public lands and offshore areas) as a backdoor gimmick to help pay for the Trump administration’s dangerous tax scheme—a deeply problematic solution, not least because the numbers simply don’t add up. The Energy and Natural Resources Committee’s top Democrat, Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington, had proposed an amendment that would have stopped the panel from raising those funds through leases to oil and gas companies, but the Senate voted in late October to reject that effort and pushed a final vote on the tax measure itself through today.

“Little wonder Senate Republicans rushed the vote: It wouldn’t survive the light of public debate,” says Suh. “That’s not government by the people. It’s putting special interests ahead of the national good—and doing it behind closed doors. We’ll hold them to account.”

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