I’ve visited the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge 20 times since 1999. On my trips I’ve witnessed indescribable beauty that I carry with me to this day – sights like 20,000 caribou feeding under the midnight sun, or hundreds of species of birds nesting on the tundra. Life that has evolved over millions of years, free of the influence of humanity. The Arctic Refuge is the wildest place on Earth I’ve ever seen.
These experiences have been on my mind this week as the fight to protect the Arctic Refuge from invasive oil drilling faced its largest setback ever.
There’s no way to sugarcoat it: we suffered a significant loss this week. The oil and gas industry and their friends in Congress finally succeeded in paving the way for drilling on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
After decades of successfully fighting off drilling attempts in the Arctic Refuge, how did this happen? They had to attach it to a must-pass massive rewriting of our country’s tax code. They had to make sure it avoided normal rules for passage and debate. They had to lie and mislead about its economic and environmental impact. They had to hold votes at 2 AM on legislation that no one had even seen.
They cut all of these corners because our champions in Congress have proven year after year that a straight up or down vote on drilling in the Arctic Refuge will fail. And the American public overwhelmingly doesn’t think we should be drilling in the Arctic Refuge. But the Republican Congress was willing to ignore the will of the people, ignore the science, ignore the heritage of the Gwich’in people, and ignore common sense and decency so they could lock in votes for unrelated tax cuts.
So, yes, this has been a bad week. But I want you to know that the fight is just beginning.
These votes aren’t the end, they are just the start of a new chapter. Together we must fight this at every opportunity – with science in environmental reviews, with lawyers in courtrooms, and in the press so that drilling advocates are held accountable for what they started this week.
On a trip to the Arctic Refuge several years ago, I was near camp when a Grizzly bear appeared in front of me. We stared at each other, as I was almost certainly the first human the bear had ever encountered. After observing me for a moment, he turned around and sidled off. I watched him all afternoon working his way across the Arctic tundra.
On that day, I stood my ground as a visitor in one of the world’s last untouched wonders. Today, I’m standing my ground again. We aren’t giving up. Not now and not ever.