The GOP tax bill, signed into law on December 22, includes a provision that authorizes oil drilling in the Arctic Refuge.
This is devastating news. The Arctic Refuge has been protected since 1960 when President Eisenhower recognized this untouched wilderness as one of the most biologically-significant places on our planet. But, going forward it’s encouraging to note several key points that can save the Arctic Refuge coastal plain from irreversible damage:
• Time is on our side. It’s unlikely that anything will take place for several years. The new legislation requires that two lease sales on the coastal plain (known as the 1002 area) take place within a seven-year period. There are multiple factors and requirements that can slow this process before any drilling could take place—such as environmental and permit reviews, public comments, and lawsuits.
• Environmental coalitions are strong and vocal about defending the Arctic Refuge for the long-haul ahead. Earthjustice has emphasized that “this is not the end, but only the beginning.” Adverse public opinion against the oil industry wields influence, as [environmental groups] have stated they will ‘shine a bright light’ on any and all companies that show interest in drilling in the Arctic Refuge.
• Reversing the drilling provision becomes more realistic with a Democratic-controlled House or Senate. This year’s midterm elections offer the chance for Democrats to take the majority in either the House or Senate. All U.S. House representatives have two-year terms; 239 Republicans and 193 Democrats currently hold seats (there are three vacancies). In the Senate, five Republicans, twenty-three Democrats, and two Independents are up for reelection; three Republican senators have announced their retirement (Corker-TN, Flake-AZ, Hatch-UT) totaling eight Republican-held seats that will be contested in November.
What’s the best action plan to protect the Arctic Refuge? The short answer is this: become more politically active in 2018 than ever before. Adopt a Democratic candidate who is challenging a Republican-held seat in your district, state (or anywhere in the country) and volunteer as much as possible. Support Democratic senators and U.S. representatives who are up for reelection. Even if you can give just an hour or two each week, it’s consistency, community connections, and enthusiasm that works—‘Get-Out-The-Vote’ (GOTV) campaigns, reaching the disenfranchised, and first-time voters make the difference. Out-of-state volunteers can do phone banking—so it doesn’t matter where you live. Campaign strategy and success of newly-elected Senator Doug Jones in Alabama is inspiring.