Senate Republicans voted on Thursday to block a Democratic amendment aimed at protecting Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from oil drilling, dealing a blow to Democrats and environmental groups.
The attempt to attach the amendment to the budget plan and thus protect the area was led by Senator Maria Cantwell. The Arctic region covers about 19 million acres and is home to numerous species of animals, including polar bears, moose and birds.
“The notion that we, tonight, after 60-plus years, would give up what is a biologically important area, a critical habitat for polar bears, a breeding ground for caribou, migratory birds and over 200 species ― for what? For oil we don’t need?” Cantwell said.
Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski who voted against the amendment, claimed that by allowing oil exploration about $1 billion would be raised.
“Those who would support this amendment will deny us the opportunity to do something constructive in this country, when it comes to our opportunities to produce energy, to produce wealth,” said the senator from Alaska.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, over 10 billion barrels of oil are held in the Arctic reserve. A bill which would allow for drilling in the ANWR, as the reserve is known, could be passed in the Senate with a party-line vote as it is part of the budget plan, which has infuriated some Democrats.
“Republicans are moving forward with a budget that includes this poison pill to hand over the wildest place left in America to Big Oil. This is nothing more than fossil fuel folly,” Senator Ed Markey said.
Environmentalists were likewise furious after the vote, pointing out that it only puts animals’ future in a greater danger than it’s already in. The president of Earthjustice, an environmental group, said in a statement that voting against the amendment also means selling public lands to whoever offers more, just so that tax breaks for the rich can be funded.