In April, Sen. Cory Gardner accepted an award from the Outdoor Industry Association, recognizing his leadership in Congress on behalf of outdoor recreation.
Seven months later, his status as a leader is in question. On Wednesday, Gardner faces a make-or-break test as a senator: will he allow Congress to approve the most consequential federal lands giveaway of the 21st century?
I’m referring to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, perhaps the most beautiful and unspoiled area left on Earth.
For the past sixty 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.
A powerful consortium of special interests has nearly succeeded in placing Arctic Refuge drilling into the Senate’s unrelated 2018 budget resolution. When given an earlier chance to block this rider from the budget, Gardner voted in favor of drilling. Now, Gardner and the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources face a final vote Wednesday on whether to drill in the Arctic Refuge.
My company and I have had a long relationship with Colorado. In 1978, I co-founded the action sports retailer Zumiez, which now operates nearly 700 stores worldwide, with 19 in Colorado.
Access to public lands has been critical to growing my business, because action sports depend on them. Public ski and snowboard runs, public skate parks, and public beaches have made Zumiez the largest action sports retailer in the world.
Zumiez’s relationship with Colorado goes beyond our 19 locations: for decades, we have hosted our annual company party in Keystone. We bring more than 1,200 of our top sales employees from around the world to enjoy the stunning splendor of the White River National Forest.
Gardner has not typically been a partisan on public lands like White River. He has often taken a principled stand, like when he voted against efforts to weaken presidential land protection authority.
That’s what would make his vote to drill in the Arctic Refuge so disappointing. When arguing in favor of a national monument in Colorado, Gardner said, “Coloradans cherish our state’s public lands.”
I could not agree more. But Gardner needs to expand his statement: Coloradans cherish all public lands.
Earlier this year, more than 100 Colorado outdoor businesses called on Cory Gardner to protect the Arctic Refuge and keep it closed to any fossil fuel development. Those businesses understand that the refuge is one of America’s most iconic public lands, and it’s the entire country’s responsibility to steward it.
There are myriad reasons why drilling in the public lands of the Arctic is a bad idea:
The projections for benefits to non-Alaska taxpayers are severely miscalculated. As the Center for American Progress puts it, projections from drilling proponents are “based on outdated resource estimates and ignore production costs and market conditions.” As a result, taxpayers in Colorado will end up subsidizing oil companies and the people of Alaska, even though Alaska is the lowest taxed state in the country and already sitting on a $62 billion rainy day fund.
Drilling is a safety hazard. Twenty seven accidents have happened in BP’s Alaska oil operations just this year, including those that could have resulted in fatalities or massive oil spills.
Alaska’s indigenous Gwich’in tribe has relied on caribou in the refuge for millennia. Drilling would almost certainly disrupt the way of life for the “last true subsistence hunters in North America.”
But most importantly, not drilling is the right thing to do. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is a pristine paradise, one of America’s greatest natural treasures and a place that deserves protection.
Sen. Gardner, on behalf of countless outdoor enthusiasts across Colorado and the United States, I urge you to please right this wrong. We hope you will continue to lead on outdoor recreation by voting ‘no’ this week on inserting Arctic Refuge drilling into the 2018 budget.
Tom Campion is the co-founder and chairman of Zumiez, as well as the co-founder of the Campion Advocacy Fund.
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