Arctic lease sale is bad for taxpayers

(This piece originally appeared in The Hill.) Representative Jared Huffman represents the 2nd District of California and is a member of the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources.

America’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is a unique national treasure that must not be squandered for short-term fossil fuel profits. Most of us understand that, even if we’ve never visited the refuge’s vast untouched wilderness, or personally witnessed the tremendous ecological diversity it sustains. We may not have the same deep, multi-generational connection to this beautiful landscape as the indigenous Gwich’in people whose subsistence, culture and way of life have depended on it since time immemorial. But we nevertheless understand that there are some places so unique, so wild, so irreplaceable that they must be protected.

While most Americans get this, the Trump administration clearly does not. Trump officials are barreling forward with a lease sale in America’s most iconic wilderness – the fragile coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge – after slipping a plan for Arctic Refuge drilling into the 2017 GOP tax scam and making a rushed mockery of the review process mandated by the National Environmental Protection Act.

Trump’s greed-first agenda, under the guise of job creation, treats the Arctic Refuge as just another fossil fuel deposit for Big Oil to plunder. The administration’s sham environmental review process ignores science, flouts tribal consultation, and gives no serious consideration to the significant biological, cultural, and climate impacts of this reckless oil extraction scheme.

A serious Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for a proposal of this complexity and sensitivity would normally take several years, but this one was rushed through in less than one year. The Interior Department’s own documents show that officials there have altered or disregarded scientific data on drilling’s impacts on imperiled wildlife, including threatened polar bears who den on the coastal plain. Records also show that they drastically overestimated potential leasing revenue and failed to meaningfully consult with the indigenous peoples of the Gwichʼin Nation of Alaska and Canada.

But here’s the real kicker: all signs are pointing to this lease sale being an epic bustA report from Taxpayers for Common Sense shows that revenues from drilling in the Refuge have been wildly inflated. In fact, BP recently pulled out of Alaska because the company has no interest in drilling in a place that would provide it little financial return. This year’s federal oil lease sales in the nearby National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska produced only lukewarm industry interest – another red flag that the Arctic Refuge lease sale will not produce anything close to the fiscal bonanza promised by drilling enthusiasts.

So why is the Trump administration rushing to sell leases on this priceless land, at a time when we are awash in oil and gas, prices are low, and no one seriously believes the financial return they promised American taxpayers will actually be realized? It’s pretty simple: to create vested property rights for their fossil fuel cronies before time runs out on this presidency. If they can lock in the leases, it will be harder, and much more expensive, for future administrations to stop oil and gas development in the Refuge.

The Trump administration should be held accountable for their promises and their disingenuous actions. When they rushed through the 2017 Republican tax law, they promised $1 billion in revenue from Arctic Refuge drilling. Even at the time, many experts pointed out this would require leasing nearly every acre of the coastal plain at sky-high prices. Now the bait and switch is clear. American taxpayers deserve better than this costly ruse.

Thankfully, some of the world’s most significant institutional investors have already warned against supporting oil and gas development in the Arctic Refuge. At the same time, many of the world’s largest banks, including Barclays, HSBC, BNP Paribas, and Societe Generale, have pledged to stop financing oil and gas projects in the Arctic.

If this administration refuses to change course and continues to ignore scientific analysis, risk to endangered animals, threats to indigenous peoples, or the obligation to conduct to legally required reviews, the oil and gas companies who bid on the leases will be the ones holding the bag.

Any company that signs up to drill in America’s Arctic Refuge will undoubtedly sustain serious reputational damage. They will face a decade of litigation to block them from irrevocably despoiling this cultural and environmental treasure. They will become infamous for shortchanging the American people.

We know that Donald Trump believes he is accountable to no one. The question I have for any company reckless and foolish enough to consider bidding is this: are you?