WASHINGTON – Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said it is “no surprise” that Republicans are trying to permit oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, calling the President Trump’s cabinet “the Big Oil all-star team.”
Markey led an effort to oppose any attempts to allow oil drilling in the as part of the fiscal year 2018 federal budget. The Senate passed a budget on Thursday that could pave the way for drilling in the refuge since it requests that the Energy and Natural Resources Committee craft a bill intended to raise $1 billion in revenue over the next decade from oil drilling.
“This Republican budget scam to hand over the wildest place left in America to Big Oil should be removed from the budget and put on ice, and we will stand and fight on the Senate floor to make sure that this does not happen,” Markey said Tuesday during a news conference on Capitol Hill.
“Rick Perry, to [Ryan] Zinke to [Scott] Pruitt to [Rex] Tillerson, it’s the Big Oil all-star team and the Arctic refuge has always had a bull’s-eye on it, so it’s not any surprise that they are coming for it even as we’ve reached a point that we are exporting oil,” he added.
Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) said Republicans knows that drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is a controversial topic that would not see the “light of day,” so slipping it in the budget would be the only way to move it forward.
“This is the last wildest place we have in America, and the tribes there and the species that are there are counting on us to make sure that this doesn’t happen,” he said.
Bennet said the U.S. does not need to permit drilling in the Arctic since oil prices are low.
“Today, commodity prices are low,” he said. “We are importing much less oil and natural gas than we did when there was a consensus that we needed to protect the refuge.”
Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) said America’s “public lands are under assault.”
“[Republicans] are trying to give away vital tax dollars to give away sweetheart deals to coal companies,” she said. “Now, on top of that they are going to try to open up the most beautiful pristine wildlife refuge we have in the United States of America.”
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) compared the support among Republicans for drilling in the Arctic to drug addicts.
“It’s like watching an addict proceed to damage themselves. Well, we together are not going to be party to this addiction and we will fight this ‘polar express’ provision with everything we have,” he said at the press conference.
Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) said oil and gas development in the Arctic would “do nothing” to enhance the nation’s energy security.
“We’ve seen oil prices going down because of new technology,” he said. “We are moving to renewables and that is what I care about. We have a climate situation here, folks, and I think we are seeing that happening, so instead of doing this and ruining this wildlife refuge, destroying the habitat for the polar bears, destroying a home to indigenous peoples, let’s double down on renewables. It’s the existential threat of our time.”
Cantwell said Arctic drilling was being advanced through a “sneak attack” in the budget process since it would never be approved on its own as a standalone bill.
“There is a reason for 40 years that we have protected it and under the last administration a permanent plan for protection was developed,” she said. “We are not going to fall this time for another attempt to pair this with some must-pass legislation only to try to hold people hostage in the hopes we will destroy one of the most beautiful Serengetis that just happens to be in the United States of America.”
Markey predicted that the Democrats would ultimately stop the refuge from being opened for any drilling.
“We think we are going to win this debate and we think that Big Oil is going to get another big black eye,” he said.
Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) also joined the effort to express opposition to drilling in the Arctic.
“This is one of Earth’s last great places,” Heinrich said. “This is one of the greatest last intact wildernesses left on Earth.”
Heinrich said a wildlife refuge is not a place to produce energy.
“Our national parks should not be places to produce energy,” he said. “It is a place we should never ever drill for profit.”