In a hard-won environmental victory for every American who cares about protecting Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the Senate voted today to reject attaching oil exploration in the pristine refuge to the massive Defense Appropriations bill. The 44-56 vote kept Arctic drilling from passing as part of the bill; drilling supporters needed at least 60 votes to keep the drilling provisions on the bill.
"Today's vote means the Arctic Refuge will remain a spectacular, unique haven for wildlife," said Sarah Wilhoite, Legislative Associate for Earthjustice. "Americans have made it clear that they want the Refuge protected, and today the Senate clearly heard them."
The Arctic Refuge provides crucial habitat for polar bears, wolves, and the Porcupine caribou herd, which travels thousands of miles to raise calves on the rich forage found in the refuge's Coastal Plain. These reindeer-like animals form the basis of the traditional subsistence lifestyle of the native Gwich'in people, who call the Coastal Plain "the place where life begins."
The fight between drilling supporters and opponents had reached a fevered peak this week, after Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK) maneuvered to attach controversial Arctic drilling language onto the bill that funds American troops. To further muddy the waters, he attempted to tie Arctic drilling to desperately needed funds for hurricane relief along the Gulf coast.
"The Senate chose to protect the native people and abundant wildlife that depend on the Arctic Refuge," said Marty Hayden, Earthjustice's Vice President for Policy. "I believe Sen. Stevens would tear down Santa's workshop and kick out his elves and reindeer if he thought there might be oil under the North Pole."
Sen. Stevens' last-ditch attempt to force Arctic drilling through Congress by the end of the year failed because enough Senators recognized that it would be a national shame to forever spoil this pristine treasure to satisfy America's thirst for oil. The government's own studies show the refuge contains less than a year's supply of oil, such a tiny amount that it would only have reduced gas prices by a penny -- and not until the year 2025.
"Drilling proponents couldn't pass this misguided measure in a stand-alone bill, so they tried to blackmail the Senate into passing it, using money for our troops as bait," said Earthjustice Executive Director Buck Parker. "To their credit, the Senate's Arctic champions saw through this underhanded scheme, and refused to play along."
Earthjustice will remain vigilant against any attempts to open the Arctic Refuge to oil drilling. "Despite numerous defeats, supporters of drilling seem unwilling to let this bad idea die," said Parker.
Learn how your Senator voted
(A NAY vote is a vote to protect the Refuge from oil drilling)