The following editorial appeared in The Seattle Times:
Congress once more is on the verge of opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling, this time to offset the massive cost of the GOP’s proposed tax cuts.
Drilling in this sensitive ecological area remains as terrible an idea today as it was 12 years ago, when Congress blocked a similar effort.
Washington state’s congressional delegation must stand up once again to protect this key Alaskan wildlife habitat, where vulnerable species such as polar bears and caribou give birth and raise their young.
A Senate hearing is scheduled Thursday to explore whether leasing the 1.5 million-acre slice of the Arctic refuge could help generate $1 billion over the next 10 years.
Both chambers of Congress have asked the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to find a way to raise that sum, and ANWR appears to be the panel’s top target.
The way those instructions came down — through a budget resolution — will allow proponents of Arctic drilling to push the plan through with a simple-majority vote, avoiding a filibuster from minority Democrats.
Congress should resist.
This $1 billion is minuscule compared to the $1.5 trillion Republicans would add to the federal deficit with their tax-cut plan.
The Arctic refuge remains uncertain as a source of oil, with environmentalists disputing how much can be extracted there. Yet a spill in the fragile ecosystem would be potentially catastrophic.
Responding to an oil spill in the remote region, where temperatures commonly reach 30 degrees below zero, poses a unique challenge.
The freezing temperatures threaten the safety of workers, while the area’s permafrost makes it difficult to dig trenches to capture spilled oil.
In such conditions, the equipment needed to help with cleanup efforts can literally freeze up when most needed.
With the United States producing 80 percent more crude oil than a decade ago and gas prices staying low, sacrificing one of the country’s last areas of pristine wilderness for uncertain profit makes little sense.
U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Washington, the ranking member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, already tried to protect ANWR with an amendment her colleagues rejected earlier this month.
Voters should call their senators and representatives and urge them to follow Cantwell’s lead.
Like they did in 2005, members of Congress must step up to block renewed efforts to drill in this vital refuge.
The benefits simply don’t outweigh the risks.