Cantwell To GOP: It’s A Wildlife Refuge, Not An Oil Field

Senator denounces cynical effort to open the ‘biological heart' of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Ranking Member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Maria Cantwell (D-WA), laid out the case against ruining the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge with oil drilling.  

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge supports more than 250 species, including caribou, polar bears, grizzly bears, wolves, muskoxen, wolverines, and migratory birds. “At its core, the Chairman’s Mark would manage and change current law of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and turn it into a petroleum reserve. That’s what this Mark does. It turns the Coastal Plain in this refuge into an oil field,” said Senator Cantwell.

This is contradictory to the purpose of a national wildlife refuge, which is to conserve wildlife and wildlife habitat for the benefit of present and future generations of Americans, and in the case of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge specifically – to conserve fish and wildlife and their habitat in their natural diversity. There is no doubt that allowing oil and gas development will permanently change the fundamental nature of the refuge’s Coastal Plain. 

“We think that it is a critical habitat that should be protected and that it is not consistent with oil and gas development,” said Senator Cantwell. “Adding oil and gas development as a purpose of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge doesn’t make any sense for a wildlife refuge – it certainly does if you want to drill, but no other national wildlife refuge lists oil and gas development as a purpose of a wildlife refuge.”

During the hearing, Senator Cantwell noted that “They [scientists] say it can’t coexist. And the reason they’re saying that is because I know people would like to say that these caribou or polar bear want to cozy up to a pipeline, but that is just not true.” Senator Cantwell submitted for the record a letter from 37 different scientists and biologists, and a letter from 6 former Fish and Wildlife Service directors or Fish, Wildlife and Parks Assistant Secretaries who say that drilling is incompatible with the purposes of a wildlife refuge.

“If we had the good sense decades ago to understand the appreciation of this refuge and the science behind it, I don’t understand why we would throw it out today and pretend that we are going to be able to protect what is such a unique place,” said Senator Cantwell. “I’m just amazed that people want to throw away such an unbelievable ecological jewel of our planet.” 

Following the hearing, Senator Cantwell released the following statement: 

“It is a tragedy that Republicans will run over something so precious as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, land that has that stood undisturbed for thousands of years, all for a giveaway to oil corporations that allows them to ignore important environmental protections.”

Watch Senator Cantwell’s opening statement here.