Environmentalists are ready to defend our country’s coastlines and wild places from a new Congress with the same old energy policy: Drill, baby, drill.

Despite the lessons of the BP oil disaster, the Republicans who will soon control a House of Representatives majority haven’t changed their energy policy since the last time they were in charge. It hasn’t changed for about a century, actually–it’s still based on an outdated preference for energy derived from burning oil and coal. And it’s still about increasing Big Oil’s bottom line. They never seem to learn that we can’t drill our way to energy independence.

And these leaders are already setting their sights on a familiar target for Big Oil–the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.

For decades, we’ve had to fend off the oil industry’s attempts to destroy the Arctic Refuge, one of America’s last great wild places. The refuge is truly a national treasure. It’s the place where massive caribou herds roam, and where polar bears raise their young. It’s home to thousands of birds that we all see each year when they migrate to the lower 48.

That a place as special as the Arctic Refuge is again on the table shows we’ve taken a significant step back.

What we need now is real leadership from Congress, leadership that will see the potential for U.S. energy independence via clean energy. We need leadership that will encourage the ingenuity of American companies to create more electric vehicles. We need leaders who will inspire the American manufacturing sector to build our clean energy future with wind turbines and solar panels. We need real leadership in Congress to help create jobs and power our nation without increasing our global warming pollution.

Instead, we’re already hearing the same tired proposals from oil industry allies. They call for increasing our addiction to fossil fuels, pandering to Big Oil, and denying the existence of climate change.

The GOP ignores many realities. The land, waters, and wildlife of the Arctic Refuge are already under stress from the impacts of climate change, which are being felt in this region more than anywhere else on the planet. Oil and gas development in the Arctic Refuge, the only area on Alaska’s North Slope where exploration and development is specifically prohibited by Congress, would add further stress to these unique ecosystems.

With this same outdated energy policy, the Republicans would have us destroy one of our nation’s most pristine and sacred wild places for a small amount of oil that could never meet our energy needs.

While the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge may seem millions of miles away from most Americans, the reality is that the Arctic is all around us. Every year, birds that are born on the Coastal Plain of the refuge journey to all 50 states and across six continents before heading back to the Arctic, where the cycle of life begins again.

The refuge’s coastal plain also provides a home for numerous mammals, including the Porcupine Caribou Herd, polar bears, grizzly bears, musk oxen, Dall sheep, wolves, and wolverines.

For thousands of years, the Gwich’in people have regarded the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge as “The Sacred Place Where Life Begins” because it has been the most frequently used birthing and nursery grounds for the migratory Porcupine Caribou Herd. This caribou herd is the foundation for the social, economic, and spiritual fabric of the lives of the Gwich’in people.

Yet despite the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge’s sacred and critical importance, the oil industry has been trying to get access to the area for years. Oil drilling would destroy this last wild place forever.

Right now, President Barack Obama can protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from the clutches of the oil industry by designating it a National Monument.

Instead of sacrificing our last best places to dirty outdated industries like oil, we should support the kind of innovation that will keep America competitive in the global clean energy economy.

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Athan Manuel

Athan Manuel is the director of the Sierra Club land protection program. www.sierraclub.org

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