How is this for a deal? Illinois will pay a painful price and get little or none of the meager benefits.
We’re talking about two inexcusable Trump administration plans to degrade the environment. As challenging as it appears to be to stop Trump at this point, we have to find a way do it.
On Monday, the administration finalized a plan to open part of the pristine but fragile Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil and gas development. Last week, the administration upended rules designed to keep methane — a dangerous greenhouse gas — from leaking from oil and gas wells and pipelines.
Both those moves are bad for Illinois.
Accelerated climate change
Illinois doesn’t have much of an oil-and-gas extraction industry, which supposedly would benefit from these policy changes. Nor will these changes bring jobs to Illinois, as some people argue they will for Alaska. But we’re already experiencing damage from the kind of climate events caused by greenhouse gases, and the damage is going to get worse. Trump’s initiatives are not a problem just for polar bears, caribou and people beset by rising sea levels on the coasts. They are a problem for all of us.
If energy companies are allowed to unlock the vast reserve of fossil fuel and greenhouse gases at the top of Arctic Circle, we are talking about accelerating climate change rather than abating it. The same is true of releasing more methane as it leaks from oil and gas wells and pipelines.
That’s not good news for the Chicago area, which just had a rare derecho and more than a dozen tornadoes rip through town and where higher lake levels are washing away beaches and battering the entire Illinois shoreline. Just last year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture declared an agriculture disaster in all of Illinois’ 102 counties because of flooding, which damaged our crops and our economy. No single weather event can be attributed to climate change, but climate scientists tell us to expect more of these sorts of things as the planet heats up.
U.S. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., calls the Arctic refuge drilling an “attack on the environment” and he’s right. U.S. Rep Sean Casten, D-Ill., calls it “absolutely bonkers.” He’s right, too. The world not only has an oil glut, but it also needs to transition as fully and quickly as possible to non-carbon energy sources.
Trump’s plan will allow oil companies to drill on 1.56 million acres in the refuge’s coastal plain, which are sacred lands to the indigenous Gwich’in people.
High costs, little gain
A New York Times analysis found the drilling would bring a mere $45 million into the nation’s treasury. The costs, though, would be sky high. Tire tracks from oil exploration 20 years ago are still visible today because it takes so long for nature in that part of the world to heal itself from damage. Moreover, oil leaks would be extremely difficult to contain because of the difficulty of getting equipment to the frigid north, and oil in cold water would dissipate far more slowly than it did in the warm Gulf of Mexico after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster.
Yet, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt says oil-drilling leases could be auctioned off at the end of the year. Once the leases are auctioned off, it will be hard to cancel them.
- An airplane flies over caribou from the Porcupine Caribou Herd on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in northeast Alaska. The Department of the Interior has approved an oil and gas leasing program within Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge is home to polar bears, caribou and other wildlife. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via AP
- In this file undated US Fish and Wildlife Service image obtained August 3, 2001 shows the coastal plain within the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. - The US Department of the Interior approved oil and gas drilling on August 17, 2020 in Alaska’s pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Getty
As for methane, it is a greenhouse gas 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide, although it remains in the atmosphere for a much shorter time. Overturning the methane standards would invite a lot of small operators to cut corners and let more methane leak, which would speed the pace of climate change. The U.S. EPA estimates the rule change, which could be overturned in court, would lead to 850,000 more tons of methane being released into the atmosphere over the next 10 years. Environmentalists say the real figure is far higher and that methane already is becoming a serious environmental problem.
While many other countries are working to reduce the effects of climate change, the Trump administration is galloping off in the other direction, hell-bent on increasing the rate of harm. Residents of Illinois should consider how that might affect our state’s agriculture. In the near future, we may no longer be able to grow crops as abundantly as we do today.
“[The Arctic refuge] has been such a political football for a decades that it is hard to tell how much of this is political and how much of this is [is a response to] demand, when oil prices are hugely deflated,” Josh Mogerman, spokesman for the Natural Resources Defense Council, told us Wednesday.
Either way, it is extremely dangerous.
Democrats backing down
Lost in the Democratic Party’s convention headlines this week was a quiet decision by the party, as part of its official platform, to drop opposition to taxpayers subsidies for fossil fuels.
That’s a mistake. We should all be fighting climate change as if the planet’s future depends on it. Because it does.
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