Early this month, the House of Representatives successfully voted to undo a terrible two-year-old mistake. Slipped into the 2017 Republican tax bill, that mistake was a provision unrelated to taxes that allowed the Trump Administration to open the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil and gas drilling.
There was no separate bill, debate, or vote on opening this fragile wilderness up for development. It was included in the tax bill on the specious grounds that it helped offset some of the cost of that Republican tax bill. At most, it offset less than one-tenth of one percent of that tax bill.
My colleagues and I in the House voted to repeal that ANWR provision of the tax bill by passing H.R.1146, the Arctic Cultural and Coastal Plain Protection Act. This bill was authored by my friend and colleague Rep. Jared Huffman (CA-02) and co-led by Republican Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-01) and myself.
Sadly, just hours after the passage of our bill, the Trump Administration announced that it had finalized its initial impact report and will be opening up 1.6 million acres of the ANWR to drilling.
The coastal plain of the ANWR — often called refuge’s "biological heart" — is not just a national treasure. It is a fragile and pristine ecosystem that is under immediate threat from industrial exploitation and requires our protection.
In addition to its biologic and ecological importance, the ANWR coastal plain is also a sacrosanct place for the Gwich’in people. A central part of their history and their way of life, the Gwich’in people call the coastal plain “the sacred place where life begins.”
Unfortunately, for too long, the oil and gas industry have seen this pristine wilderness as nothing more than a promising cash cow, with billions of dollars of oil just waiting to be drilled and sold.
Oil and gas development anywhere is irreversible, coming with inherent risks and wide ranging negative impacts. Just west of the ANWR coastal plain are private lands developed by oil and gas interests in the 1980s where terrible scars are still plainly visible today. This is particularly true in the Arctic. Doubly so in a wildlife refuge. The impacts of any new development in the ANWR would be there for a millennia.
And despite Republican arguments to the contrary, drilling in the ANWR will not help the U.S. become more energy independent. Currently, the U.S. is exporting more than 3 million barrels of oil a day. If oil development in areas such as the ANWR was really about making America energy independent, instead of exporting those barrels, we would keep them here at home. This is not about energy independence, this is about profits for a few players in the oil and gas industry.
There was no need — and there is still no need — to turn this fragile wilderness into the newest Arctic oil and gas field. With H.R.1146, we are righting this wrong, to restore the protections for this fragile wilderness, and protect a tribe’s way of life.
I was proud to support H.R.1146, proud to vote for it, and proud to join my colleagues in passing it as part of our continuing fight to protect our environment from unnecessary and unrealistic development. But our work has only just begun. Just as we proposed, introduced, and passed legislation to address the initial attempt by this administration to open up the ANWR, my colleagues and I will do the same when it comes to the latest threat from President Trump to destroy this fragile ecosystem.
The bottom line is that the ANWR must be protected from commercial exploitation, not just for our own sake, but for the sake of all future generations.
Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach) represents the 47th Congressional District, including most of Long Beach, Lakewood, Signal Hill and the surrounding area.