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Arizonans Slam Tax Bill That Could Allow Drilling in Arctic

Tundra swans take off in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge. (William Pohley)
Tundra swans take off in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge. (William Pohley)
November 29, 2017

PHOENIX – Opposition to the Republican tax proposal in the Senate is growing in the conservation community – because the bill includes a provision to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling.

Supporters justify the move by saying it will bring jobs and generate revenue, which will offset a small part of the $1.5 trillion the bill would add to the deficit with a huge tax cut for corporations.

Mike Quigley, Arizona state director for The Wilderness Society, is pushing Arizona's two U.S. senators to vote against the bill or support an amendment to remove the part authorizing drilling in the refuge.

"We are calling on both Sen. (John) McCain and Sen. (Jeff) Flake to stand on principles here: the principle to preserve America's most special places and the principle to remain fiscally conservative," Quigley states.

In the Arctic coastal plain, 95 percent of the area already is open to oil drilling, where oil spills large and small are common.

Quigley cautions that an accident in this pristine wilderness would be almost impossible to clean up.

Tice Supplee, director for bird conservation at Audubon Arizona, says the refuge is crucial to the migration of caribou and birds.

"Over 200 species of birds that migrate through all of our other states and six continents nest in this location,” she points out. “Audubon calls the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain the bird basket of the Americas."

Sandhill cranes, snow geese, tundra swans and pintail ducks are some of the many birds that stop over in Arizona on their northward journey to the Arctic.

David C. Raskin, president of the Friends of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, splits his time between Green Valley, Ariz., and Homer, Alaska. He says he enjoys seeing the sandhill cranes in both locations.

"We go to Whitewater Draw and sometimes see as many as 30,000 sandhill cranes there,” he relates. “So it would be a great loss to the people of Arizona and Alaska to have their breeding grounds in the Arctic refuge damaged."

The bill could go to a floor vote in the Senate as early as Wednesday.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - AZ