By Tom Campion
I’ve visited the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge 20 times since 1999. On my trips, I’ve witnessed indescribable beauty that I carry with me to this day — sights like 20,000 caribou feeding under the midnight sun, or hundreds of species of birds, many of which have migrated from the Methow Valley.
The Arctic Refuge is the wildest place on Earth I’ve ever seen — perhaps the most beautiful and unspoiled area left on Earth.
For the past 60 years, the Arctic Refuge has been protected by a bipartisan coalition of leaders who understood that it is meant to be cherished and preserved, not turned over to destructive oil and gas production.
Now, the Arctic Refuge faces its most serious threat since Republican President Dwight Eisenhower first set it aside for protection in 1960.
Our Washington senators Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray have led the fight to keep the Arctic Refuge protected, but in December a powerful consortium of special interests succeeded in placing drilling into the tax bill that the president signed into law.
What exactly does drilling in the Arctic Refuge have to do with taxes? Not a lot. Including this measure in the tax bill was a transparent attempt to buy the vote of Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski — and it worked.
That’s because Arctic Refuge drilling isn’t just a public lands giveaway, it’s also a giveaway of wealth to the people of Alaska from the Methow Valley and everyone else in the other 49 states.
No business sense
I’m passionate about the protection of public lands like the Arctic Refuge, but I also come at this from a business perspective. And these tax bills make absolutely no business sense.
Since 1981, Alaska has had the lowest state and local tax burden in the country. In a unique set-up, revenue from oil drilling is put it into a permanent fund that distributes money annually to every eligible Alaskan. The most recent payment was $1,100 per person. The permanent rainy-day fund is a mind-boggling $62 billion — but for Alaska, none of this is enough.
The official stated purpose of drilling in the Arctic Refuge was to earn new revenue that will offset the tax bill’s $1.4 trillion in deficit increases. Drilling proponents claimed this will earn $1 billion — a number that is, separate from being just .07 percent of $1.4 trillion, based on faulty math. A study by the Center for American Progress showed that offering new oil and gas leases would fall “far short,” likely yielding just “$37.5 million in revenue for the U.S. Treasury over the next 10 years.” They write that the projections from proponents are “based on outdated resource estimates and ignore production costs and market conditions.”
This is bad math and bad faith. The Senate tax bill will impose a tax increase on 27 percent of families in Washington state and transfers the wealth to people in Alaska, who already have the lowest tax rates in the country.
It’s clear that the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge should be preserved and protected for future generations to enjoy it. Alaskans will benefit yet again, but the rest of the country, including the Methow Valley, will suffer.
Tom Campion is the co-founder and chairman of Zumiez, as well as the co-founder of the Campion Advocacy Fund.