Last week, 12 House Republicans wrote a letter to congressional leaders asking them to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from imminent harm. When I learned that one of them was my own representative, Mark Sanford, my heart swelled with pride.
The Arctic Refuge is one of the last truly wild landscapes left in the U.S. It’s essential habitat for caribou, polar bears, and more than 200 species of birds that migrate through all 50 states and six continents, including South Carolina.
America's Bird Nursery
The coastal plain of the Refuge is unique on Earth. In a region that’s mostly icy peaks and glittering glaciers, the coastal plain is warm, moist, and buggy through the summer. Dense with nesting and breeding wildlife, dissolving into salt marsh as it stretches toward the sea, the Refuge’s coastal plain bears a certain resemblance to our own lowcountry.
And, the Refuge’s coastal plain is exactly where Congress is now determined to begin fossil fuel leasing. No matter that ten million acres nearby is currently open for leasing. No matter that industrialization and oil spills in the coastal plain would harm bird populations virtually worldwide. In a Congress that now hopscotches over regular order, there’s not even a chance to debate the future of the Refuge.
So Representative Sanford swung into action. He and 11 other Republican House members urged congressional leaders to allow “robust debate on this highly-controversial issue.” They also pointed out that Republicans, Democrats, and Independents have stood together to protect the Refuge ever since it was set aside by President Eisenhower in 1960.
At the same time, seven former Republican officials, including the first EPA Administrator William Ruckelshaus and former Interior Deputy Secretary Lynn Scarlett, sent their own letter to congressional leaders. They warned that it’s “fiscally irresponsible” to decide the fate of the Refuge without debate. And emphasized that the revenue projections for leasing are "highly speculative."
In addition to approaching congressional leaders, Representative Sanford coauthored an opinion piece with National Audubon Society’s President and CEO, David Yarnold. Here, Sanford and Yarnold take a hard look at Congress’ revenue projections, showing that fossil fuel leasing in the Refuge would bring in just five to ten percent of the hoped-for amount.
Strong Conservation History
So yes, I’m proud of my representative — but also not surprised. Mark Sanford has consistently introduced or cosponsored bills that address climate change, offshore drilling, and other threats to South Carolina’s birds. He cares deeply about wild lands and wildlife, and he also has a keen eye for overblown fiscal promises.
Sanford says he’ll stand firm on protecting the Refuge. As he recently told the Post and Courier, “I believe in the Teddy Roosevelt model that conservatism applies to our natural resources.” Unfortunately, he hasn’t found many allies on the Refuge within his own party. “'Drill baby drill,’” Sanford said, “is still the sentiment of the caucus.”
Audubon is fond of saying that birds have no party. Whether we’re R, D, or I, Audubon’s friends and members all support healthy and abundant bird populations — and we all owe a debt of thanks to Mark Sanford. If you live in his district, please send a quick note showing your appreciation for his commitment to the Arctic Refuge.