Subscribe for 33¢ / day

What we know about the planet’s Arctic regions can be summed up in a single word — cold.

But, of course, there’s more to it than just cold. For one thing, it seems evident that climate change is making our Arctic areas warmer, which is both a blessing and a curse.

For the purposes of today’s discussion, however, the focus is on yet another rift among congressional Republicans, specifically in the U.S. Senate, over what exactly to do with the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The Arctic refuge supports more plant and animal life than any other protected region within the Arctic Circle. The refuge consists of 19,286,722 acres, is the largest wildlife refuge in the nation, its ecozones stretching more than 200 miles north to south.

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a Republican, has introduced legislation that would require the Department of Interior to approve at least two leases for oil drilling. If that happens, about 800,000 acres would be opened to the oil business.

That’s great for oil companies — not so great for plants and animals that would be materially affected by oil exploration and extraction. In fact, 12 House Republicans have recognized the potential problems, and have penned a letter to their Senate counterparts objecting to any changes in the Arctic Refuge’s protected status.

This internecine political spat is actually less about protecting or opening up the Arctic Refuge to commerce, and more about the GOP leadership being desperate to find ways to help finance the Senate/House’s compromise on the Trump administration’s tax-reform push.

Sen. Murkowski said the oil business is crucial to the success of the tax scheme, because federal government revenue from taxes and fees from oil companies for having access to the Arctic Refuge would generate about $1 billion over the next decade, and contribute to paying for the GOP’s tax cuts, which experts say will add more than $1 trillion to the national debt over the next 10 years.

Here’s the question: Do you believe carving up 800,000 acres of a pristine wilderness refuge is worth the few hundred dollars a year in tax breaks the GOP’s proposed tax reforms may give you?

The “few hundred dollars a year” is what economists say is the optimum outcome of the tax proposal for the average American. And in fact, most experts believe the tax plan, as proposed, would actually hurt the very poorest Americans, but be a big boost to the nation’s wealthiest taxpayers.

If the group that will supposedly benefit the most from Republican tax reform is limited to only the rich, what, really, is in it for the rest of us?

The Arctic Refuge is far from us, and for many it could simply be an out-of-sight, out-of-mind problem. But just because we don’t live in a place doesn’t mean we have a green light to rip it apart.

In a way, Sen. Murkwoski was forced into her support of the opening of major parts of the Arctic Refuge. The Senate budget proposal requires the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which Murkowski chairs, to find that $1 billion in additional revenue to help pay for the tax-reform scheme.

The fight over oil drilling in the Arctic Refuge has been raging for the better part of four decades. It has always come down to whether inflicting such damage as the oil business would cause is worth the value of oil in a world market not really needing oil at the moment.

In the long range, the refuge is more important than the oil.