Republicans in Congress committed what one environmental expert calls an "epic crime" with the recently passed tax bill --- a hidden and little-known provision that opens the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for drilling.
Senators passed the sweeping tax reform in the very early morning hours on Saturday, the largest overhaul to the tax code since the 1980s. Critics have attacked the plan for raising taxes on the middle class while offering huge cuts to the wealthiest Americans and on corporations, but environmentalists are taking on a different provision of the bill. In order to secure the vote of Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republicans inserted a provision that opens up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil drilling.
"This small package offers a tremendous opportunity for Alaska, for the Gulf Coast, and for all of our nation," Murkowski said (via the Washington Examiner). "We have authorized responsible energy development in the 1002 area."
Democrats and environmental groups had fought for close to four decades to keep that area of land free from oil drilling. Subhankar Banerjee, an environmentalists and professor of ecology at the University of New Mexico, told Democracy Now that the drilling now opens up a host of troubling issues, including the possibility of mass extinction in the area.
"When it comes to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge where drilling is proposed, the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge is the biologically most diverse protected nursery in the entire Circumpolar North," he said. "It is a nursery of global significance. I am not saying this sitting at a high tower of academia. I have spent an enormous amount of time in all seasons in that coastal plain, and have seen life being born, being nursed, in all seasons including winter."
"That is the coastal plain where the polar bear gives birth. That is the coastal plain where muskox gives birth. That is the coastal plain where 200,000-strong Porcupine River caribou herd, that earlier Sam Alexandra was talking about, give birth and nurse their young. That is the coastal plain where millions of birds from six continents and all 50 United States go there to nest and rear their young. And I have experienced all of this personally out there."