WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Sen. Tom Udall spoke Oct. 18 on the Senate floor in strong opposition to a provision slipped in the Republicans’ Fiscal Year 2018 budget resolution that would pay for tax cuts for the ultra-wealthy in part through oil and gas development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
A longtime champion of protection for the Arctic refuge, Udall called for the removal of any language in the budget that would open to drilling the refuge’s coastal plain, known as the 10-02 area.
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1960 by President Dwight Eisenhower, and expanded in 1980 to its current 19.6 million acres under the leadership of Udall’s uncle, then-Rep. Mo Udall. The 1.56 million-acre coastal plain the biological heart of the refuge — is home to several Native American Tribes and supports more than 250 species, including caribou, polar bears, grizzly bears, wolves, muskoxen, wolverines, and migratory birds. The provision to the FY2018 budget would allow the government to auction off leases on 1.5 million acres of northeastern Alaska to oil and gas companies.
“This refuge is the largest Arctic conservation area on the globe. It’s part of our national heritage. It’s part of the world’s heritage,” Udall said in his speech. “Oil and gas development would change its delicate ecosystem forever. You could never get it back.”
Through the years, Congress fended off several attempts to open the region to drilling, and Udall pledged to fight to defeat this latest plan.
“There are few places left in the world where the Arctic coastal plains, foothills, and mountains – and the wildlife they support – are wild and free,” Udall said. “The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is one of those places. This unique, grand, and biologically rich place deserves full protection in perpetuity.”
Yesterday, Udall joined a coalition of Democratic senators for a press conference calling for protection of the Arctic refuge. Video of the press conference is available here.
The full text of Udall’s floor remarks is below.
Madam President, I wanted to rise today to talk a little bit about something very obscure that’s buried in this budget bill but something that’s very important to me. First before I talk about the specific policy issues, I just wanted to talk about a personal exploration I had with regard to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and this special area called the 10-02 area.
I had the opportunity in the 1980s to take a raft trip down across this arctic coastal plain and down to the sea. And part of the reason was that many of the Alaska senators at the time used to say if you’re going to make policy in Alaska, you ought to see that part of Alaska. I took the opportunity to see it, and took a raft trip down a river called the Hulahula River, which flows out of the Brooks Range into the Beaufort Sea.
And I can just say from my personal experience that this is one of the wildest most magnificent places on the earth. To talk a little bit about the creatures and critters we saw there — we saw the beginning of the caribou immigration, which occurs over in Canada over to this area in Alaska, where they calve in the 10-02 area. It’s one of the biggest migrations in the world of a mammal species.
We saw grizzly bears, one grizzly bear actually came into our camp and we had to retreat and watch whatever it was going to do until it moved along. We saw muskoxen, we saw polar bears, and we saw what a marvelous and incredible area this was — what a rich, rich ecosystem it was.
I was reminded of my uncle Mo, Congressman Morris Udall, who was the author in the 1980s of legislative protections for this area, and he required congressional action to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and in this 10-02 area. He did this because he realized how significant it was and how magnificent it was.
You know, one of the things we have to realize is what we’re protecting here. People travel all over the world to go to the Serengeti to see the migrations of the animals on the Serengeti Plain. This migration, the same caribou migration, is very much like the Serengeti. In fact, it is our Serengeti, when you have animals migrate from Canada all the way into Alaska and back. This is our Serengeti, it’s a special place, it’s a real treasure, and I don’t have any doubt in my mind that we should save it.
Now, Madam President, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge represents one of the world’s wildest and most biodiverse places. Its coastal plain — or the “10-02 Area” — is the biological heart of the refuge.
There is no other place like it on the planet. Congress showed remarkable restraint and forethought when it put the refuge under federal protection. And I’m proud that my uncle Mo Udall was instrumental in passing legislation that doubled the size of the refuge. Under that law, only Congress can open up the 10-02 Area for drilling.
Today, I rise in strong opposition to the Republican proposal to drill for oil in this remarkable place. And I will fight their plan tooth and nail, and the only reason they’re doing this is to pay for tax cuts for big corporations and tax cuts for the richest Americans.
Madam President, the Arctic Wildlife Refuge’s coastal plain is an environmental time machine. It is a rare place on this earth — where almost everything has been preserved as it was 10,000 years ago. Oil and gas development would change its delicate ecosystem forever. You could never get it back.
This refuge is the largest Arctic conservation area on the globe. It’s part of our national heritage. It’s part of the world’s heritage. And that’s why I compare it to the Serengeti— where people travel from all over the world to see that migration. The same thing is true here.
It would be wrong to plunder this magnificent area for short-term gain. Especially when that gain is speculative.
The 10-02 Area is home to 37 species of land mammals, eight species of marine mammals, 42 fish species, and over 200 species of birds. Migratory birds fly in and out from every state and every continent. The coastal plain in the refuge is only 20 to 40 miles wide. No other equivalent slice of Alaska’s North Slope is as biologically diverse.
Here are a few examples of the wildlife that depend on this area:
Here’s a photograph of a caribou and its young, during spring calving time, the 10-02 area hosts the largest and most concentrated herd of Porcupine caribou in the world: 197,000 caribou make the longest land migration of any animal – 2,700 miles — to give birth there on the coastal plain in the 10-02 area.
Their numbers are strong now. But even a small change in reproductive rates could threaten the herd’s existence.
900 Beaufort Sea polar bears den on- and off-shore in the 10-02 area. The magnificent polar bear is “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act, and with climate change causing sea ice to melt rapidly, more bears are expected to den onshore.
About 250 muskoxen live there year round. This impressive mammal survived the last ice age, but forcing them from their habitat now could threaten their survival.
And people also depend on the refuge. The Gwich’in have lived there for thousands of years. They call themselves “People of the Caribou” because their culture and way of life are intertwined with the Porcupine caribou herd.
Caribou represents almost 80 percent of the Gwich’in people’s diet. They use caribou skins for clothing, bedding, and shelter. They make fishhooks, skin scrapers, and other tools from caribou bones.
The Gwich’in are spiritually tied to the caribou as well. They have a saying that “every caribou has a bit of the human heart in them; and every human has a bit of caribou heart.” The Gwich’in people depend on the caribou for their material and spiritual survival. And oil development in caribou calving grounds would threaten their very future.
The Republicans’ budget resolution instructs the Senate Energy Committee to identify at least $1 billion dollars in deficit savings over the next ten years. The Republicans have their sights on the 10-02 Area to produce that billion dollars.
As I said, this estimate is highly speculative.
But – for the sake of argument — let’s assume that the number, $1 billion is correct. It still doesn’t even scratch the surface of the $1.5 trillion deficit the Republicans recklessly propose. It’s not even 1 / 1,000th of the money the Republicans need to raise to pay for the mega-deficit they will rack up to pay for a tax break for the super-wealthy.
Opening the Arctic Refuge is not necessary for U.S. energy independence. We are now an oil exporter and oil prices are low. Low prices are forcing companies to stop drilling in areas that are much more accessible and less sensitive to development.
Opening the refuge now makes even less sense when people are demanding more fuel efficient and electric cars.
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is one of the last truly wild places in America.
The decision to protect the refuge from drilling was done carefully and thoughtfully. The decision to undo that protection should be given the same care and thought. But we haven’t held hearings. We haven’t been able to hear and question experts. Directing the Energy Committee to draft legislation to raise funds – without a public process — is premature.
The American people will have to live with our decision. This rushed proposal short-changes them – and it short changes future generations.
Madam President, there are few places left in the world where the Arctic coastal plains, foothills, and mountains – and the wildlife they support – are wild and free. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is one of those places. This unique, grand, and biologically rich place deserves full protection in perpetuity.