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Vote This Week Could Open Cherished Arctic Landscape to Drilling

Both Maine Senators have opposed measures in Congress that would allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. (Steve Hillebrand/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
Both Maine Senators have opposed measures in Congress that would allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. (Steve Hillebrand/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
November 27, 2017

AUGUSTA, Maine – A plan to open up a cherished landscape to oil and gas drilling is moving steadily through Congress – and could have implications for Maine.

The Senate tax proposal could be voted on early this week, and tied to it is a plan to allow oil and gas leases on land in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The area may be thousands of miles away, but Lisa Pohlmann, executive director of the Natural Resources Council of Maine, says folks here understand the need to protect our natural landscapes.

"It's a far distance from us, but there's a lot of reasons that we feel connected to it,” she states. “Here in Maine, we really do have a great appreciation for the importance of wilderness and wildlife, and just would really like to see that place continue to be protected."

The nearly 20 million acre refuge has been protected for decades, but the Senate bill could open the door for drilling on the entire 1.5 million acres.

Supporters say it would generate more than $1 billion in federal revenue to offset proposed tax cuts.

But conservation groups argue the economic benefits are overstated, and don't outweigh the possible threats to the fragile landscape.

Pohlmann says as a coastal state already experiencing increasing ocean acidification and warmer waters, Mainers are already concerned about the climate impacts of oil and gas drilling.

"Our natural resource-based economy is very reliant on a clean and healthy environment and these carbon emissions are going to be exacerbated by increased use of fossil fuels,” she stresses. “And what we're really pushing for is increased use of renewable energy sources, like solar and wind."

Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine, and Sen. Angus King, an independent from Maine, both have supported measures to prevent energy exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

And Pohlmann points out that Collins has the strongest voting record against drilling of any Republican senator.

"She has voted against drilling for oil and gas in the refuge eight out of nine times since the year 2000, and we hope that Senator Collins will vote against the drilling and destruction, as she has before," Pohlmann states.

According to research from the National Wildlife Federation, the amount of oil in the refuge is speculative, and at peak production would meet only about 5 percent of U.S. oil needs in coming decades.


Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - ME