A reprieve for polar bears, caribou and birds

U.S. House of Representatives passed the Build Back Better Act with Arctic protections intact

The U.S. House of Representatives just passed the historic Build Back Better Act, which includes critical investments that will benefit Americans across the country. Some of the bill’s most impactful environmental provisions include an expansion of clean energy tax incentives as well as funds to electrify school bus fleets and replace lead pipes across the country.

But another monumental action taking up only five lines of the bill’s more than 2,100 pages fixes a decades-old issue that would have had potentially horrific environmental consequences: The bill ends the oil and gas leasing program in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge—one of the most pristine places on the planet.

The leasing program, which opened more than 1.5 million acres of the wildlife refuge to oil drilling, was established in 2017 through the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The first lease sale took place in January 2021, and nine tracts of land were officially auctioned off to companies intending to drill for oil in one of our nation’s last wild places.

Now that the House has officially passed this bill reinstating protections for the refuge, the Porcupine caribou, migratory birds, and endangered polar bears that call the area home can breathe a little easier. 

But the fight to protect this area does not end here. Now, the bill travels to the Senate, whose members have negotiated the terms of the bill over recent weeks and months. Senators should remember that drilling in the Arctic Refuge isn’t just bad for wildlife and our climate; it’s also fiscal nonsense.

Once the Senate passes the Build Back Better Act, the companies that bought the rights to drill in the refuge will have their money returned, and the Arctic Refuge will once again be left alone—as it should be.