Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Reps. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) and Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) sent a letter today signed by 60 House Democrats to President Biden urging him to support the repeal of the oil and gas leasing program for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and a buyback of the leases issued in January 2021. The provision was recently passed through the House Natural Resources Committee in its portion of the larger Build Back Better Act.
In December of 2017, with the support of the fossil fuel industry, Congressional Republicans and the Trump administration opened 1.5 million acres of the Arctic Refuge to oil and gas drilling by inserting a provision into the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act mandating lease sales in the Refuge. The move was strongly opposed by Congressional Democrats, Indigenous communities, conservationists, climate scientists, and millions of other concerned Americans.
Despite the opposition, Republicans repeatedly claimed that opening the Arctic Refuge to oil and gas drilling would raise billions of dollars in federal revenue over the next decade, relying on a 2017 Congressional Budget Office (CBO) score. They used these claims in part to justify supporting massive tax cuts for the wealthy and major corporations in voting narrowly to pass the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act through reconciliation.
The revenue projections that served as the basis for opening the Arctic Refuge were utterly unrealistic. No major oil or gas companies showed up for the first lease sale held on Jan. 6, 2021, which was held just before President Trump left office and raised a meager $12.1 million, only half of which went to the U.S. Treasury.
As the authors of today’s letter, which is available at https://bit.ly/3nYuF3d, note, CBO now estimates that repealing the Arctic Refuge oil and gas leasing program and buying back the leases is a worthy investment in a more sustainable economy and future:
Nearly four years after the CBO estimated opening the Refuge to drilling would generate billions of dollars for U.S. taxpayers, they recently informed Congress that the provision passed by the House Natural Resources Committee would likely cost less than $50 million over the next decade. Allowing more leasing and drilling in the Arctic Refuge to move forward is a terrible financial investment for U.S. taxpayers, but spending tens of millions of dollars to protect this region is a wise investment that would enormously benefit our nation.
Adding to the leasing program’s financial woes, the six largest U.S. banks have announced their refusal to fund oil and gas drilling projects in the Arctic Refuge. Drilling in the region now has even less of a financial future than when Congress first approved it based on the inflated, and now demonstrably wrong, revenue estimates.
The House Natural Resources Committee passed its portion of the Build Back Better Act, including the proposed repeal of the Arctic Refuge oil and gas leasing program, on Sept. 9. That measure has been reported to the House Budget Committee, which is expected to debate and vote on the full Build Back Better Act in the coming weeks.