Republican tax plan opens up Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling

— -- The final version of the Republican tax bill, which passed in Congress midday Wednesday, included a major blow to environmentalists.

In addition to slashing the corporate tax rate and nixing the mandate that Americans have health insurance, the tax legislation contained language requiring the federal government to open up and lease part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to private companies for oil and gas drilling.

"This is a major victory for Alaska that will help us fulfill the promises of our statehood and give us renewed hope for growth and prosperity," Murkowski said in a press release Wednesday. She said the deal would yield considerable revenue for the state's coffers.

“While they may have had the votes last night to pass this legislation, they certainly don’t have the consciousness of America,” Cantwell said on a call with reporters Wednesday. “We are going to take our case to the American public now,” Cantwell went on, vowing to fight the law in court, future legislation, and elections down the road.

“As one of the key truly, truly unique wild places left on the planet it makes no sense for the United States of America to abdicate their environmental stewardship,” Cantwell said.

“I do find it ironic that at a time when American children across the country are singing about reindeer pulling Santa’s sleigh, we are voting over destroying the most important caribou habitat, which are reindeer, in the entire country,” Collin O’Mara, President and CEO of National Wildlife Federation, said Wednesday, echoing Cantwell’s concern about the rareness and fragility of the land.

Sam Alexander a board member of Gwich’in international tribal council said politicians were blind to the “true value” of the area. The Gwich’in people live in the northern parts of Alaska and Canada. “Our congressional leadership is blind to the fact that the true value of the coastal plain is its place as America’s last, unspoiled wilderness,” Alexander told reporters on a call with environmentalists Wednesday.

The Congressional Budget Office projects the federal government could make about $1 billion in revenue from leases and sales in the area over the next decade if it splits profits with the state of Alaska as outlined in the legislation.

“This is indicative of a much bigger agenda by this congress, led by Republicans, and this president to sell out our public lands to the highest bidder for short term gain,” Jamie Williams, president of The Wilderness Society, told reporters Wednesday, citing the Interior Department’s recent decision to change to the size and status of public lands and monuments in Utah. “This is not an isolated story. We know it is widely unpopular with the American people and we think we will prevail in the long run once the public really understands what is being done here.”