Do we really need to drill arctic refuge?
Colorado sportsmen are pressing U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner to protect the 19-million-acre Arctic National Wildlife Refuge on Alaska’s north coast from drilling.
The most obvious reason is that it’s the crown jewel of America’s national wildlife refuge system and is simply too special to desecrate in any way. Even in an outdoors-crazy state like Colorado, the unspoiled ANWR is a bucket-list destination. It’s one of America’s most sought-after backcountry hunting and fishing experiences
But there’s a political angle that makes Gardner’s role in the debate particularly noteworthy. Using a budget resolution process to open the refuge to oil and gas exploration only requires a simple majority in the Senate, so opponents are counting on sensible Republicans to reject the gambit.
Members of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers are hoping Gardner is one of them. A budget process, they argue, isn’t an appropriate vehicle for a decision affecting land owned by all Americans. A senator from Colorado should have an appreciation for the recreational values at stake, not to mention the biodiversity in the refuge, known as “America’s Serengeti.”
But there’s another twist. At a recent town hall meeting in Grand Junction, Gardner said that he believed humankind was altering Earth’s climate. He also said he didn’t want to pursue “reckless policies that will destroy our economy.”
But drilling in the ANWR is reckless precisely because it provides no economic benefit. Oil and gas prices are low due to a worldwide glut in production. Even if they inched up, there are far cheaper places to drill. It’s unlikely the federal government would see the $5 billion in revenues lawmakers are claiming as a justification for using the budget reconciliation process to clear the way for drilling.
Putting a remote, expensive place to drill into production in the middle of a fuel glut is bad enough. Promoting drilling at the expense of a primeval landscape — and the outdoor recreation jobs and spending it supports — is just bad economic policy.
Gardner has worked to give credence to the economic power of the outdoor recreation economy. He was the chief sponsor of the Outdoor REC Act to calculate how jobs associated with tourism, hunting and fishing, the manufacturing of outdoor gear and visits to public lands factor into the country’s gross domestic product.
Backcountry Hunters & Anglers call him “a good friend of sportsmen” and a “proud proponent of public lands.” On the issue of drilling in the ANWR, Gardner has the opportunity to fall back on simple supply-and-demand argument to articulate why it makes no economic sense and won’t fix budget shortfalls.