A firsthand account of activities on Capitol Hill during the historic House vote to protect the Arctic Refuge. By Kaden McArthur
Last week was momentous for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. For the first time in history, the House of Representatives passed a stand-alone bill to protect the Arctic Refuge — H.R. 1146, the ‘Arctic Cultural and Coastal Plain Protection Act’ – in a bipartisan vote of 225-193. This critical piece of legislation would restore protections that were stripped by the 2017 Tax Act that mandated oil and gas leasing in the Arctic Refuge’s Coastal Plain. Yet the work to protect the Arctic Refuge didn’t start or end with this vote.
As I spoke with members of Congress on their way to vote on the House floor, I reflected on what the passage of H.R. 1146 would mean. Years of effort by so many people had led to this historic step for restoring protections to the Arctic Refuge. However, I also realized that the work to restore protections to this invaluable landscape was far from over, given the relentless attacks from this administration.
At Alaska Wilderness League, we have been working hard to reverse the mandate of oil drilling in the Arctic Refuge since the moment it was signed into law by President Trump. This past summer, I started as an intern with the League and immediately began preparing for a vote on an amendment to the House Interior Appropriations Bill, which would have removed a provision included in the bill to hold the Trump administration accountable to its own promises. This provision required the Department of the Interior to only move forward with an Arctic Refuge lease sale if the sale raised at least half of the $1 billion in revenue the Trump administration claimed would be garnered from oil and gas leasing on the Coastal Plain. On one of my very first days, I made nearly 100 calls to congressional offices to flag this amendment and urge them to vote against it. With the help of our supporters in Congress we defeated this amendment that would’ve moved us backward on protecting the Arctic Refuge.
In September, I became the new full-time Legislative Coordinator for Alaska Wilderness League. In this role, I was immediately immersed in the League’s work on Capitol Hill around the vote on H.R. 1146. I’ll never forget the week I spent lobbying with our partners from the Gwich’in Steering Committee, who flew in from Alaska and Canada for the vote. Two of these participants were young people who left a lasting impression on me because of their incredible ability to share their stories with others.
The Gwich’in rely upon the Porcupine River caribou herd which migrates to the Coastal Plain of the Arctic Refuge to give birth to their calves. For generations they have been forced to travel to Washington, D.C. to advocate for the protection of the Arctic Refuge and their traditional way of life. I was lucky to learn from them about how this fight is about more than protecting America’s last polar bears — it is also a critical human rights issue.
The Trump administration has made it clear that they will only increase their efforts to give away our public lands to oil and gas companies. On the day that the House passed H.R. 1146, the Department of the Interior struck back by releasing their final Environmental Impact Statement on Arctic Refuge drilling, which identified the most aggressive alternative possible. They aim to lease the entire coastal plain – where polar bears den and the Porcupine caribou calve and raise their young – to oil drilling. The first sale is planned before the end of 2019.
This is why we are continuing to work as hard as ever to gain protections for the Arctic Refuge.
The same week that the House vote occurred the Senate introduced a bill, S. 2461, that would designate the Coastal Plain of the Arctic Refuge as wilderness. As we move forward from this exciting moment, we are committed to doing the work necessary to gain permanent protections for the Arctic Refuge, and we have significant momentum in that fight.
Find out how your representative voted on H.R. 1146 and send them a message!