The Republican budget’s “extreme cuts to healthcare, retirement security, anti-poverty programs, education, infrastructure, and other critical investments are real and will inflict serious harm on American families.”
With the nation’s attention rightly fixated on President Donald Trump’s horrific treatment of immigrant children, House Republicans on Tuesday quietly unveiled their 2019 budget proposal that calls for $537 billion in cuts to Medicare, $1.5 trillion in cuts to Medicaid, and four billion in cuts to Social Security over the next decade in an effort to pay for their deficit-exploding tax cuts for the wealthy.
“It’s morally bankrupt, patently absurd, and grossly un-American,” the advocacy group Patriotic Millionaires said of the GOP’s budget proposal, which calls for $5.4 trillion in spending cuts from major domestic programs. Continue reading →
A woman holds a sign at a protest of the “Trump tax scam” on Dec.4, 2017. (Photo: CDEL Family/flickr/cc)
With President Donald Trump and fellow Republicans eyeing a second round of tax cuts—with a rollout possible this summer—130 organizations are urging members of Congress to reject them, because, like the first round, they will “primarily enrich the already wealthy” while threatening even deeper cuts to essential services.
“The richest Americans do not need another massive tax cut,” the letter from national groups including the AFL-CIO, Americans for Tax Fairness, Friends of the Earth, the National Education Association, and Patriotic Millionaires states. Continue reading →
“Right now I need SNAP to get by,” Tina Keys, a mother from Washington, explained at a #HandsOffSnap rally outsite the Captiol on May 8. (Photo: @TalkPoverty/Twitter)
While social welfare advocates have launched a #HandsOffSNAP campaign to protest Republican lawmakers’ latest attempt to make Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits—often called food stamps—less accessible, President Donald Trump is reportedly planning to pressure them to include even stricter work requirements in the 2018 Farm Bill.
“Trump is expected to tell senior lawmakers in a meeting this week that he will veto the farm bill if it doesn’t include tighter work requirements for people receiving food stamps,” two people familiar with the president’s deliberations told the Wall Street Journal. Continue reading →
“This proposal is a shameful betrayal of children. This administration and congressional Republicans passed a massive tax giveaway to their donors and big corporations, and now they want vulnerable children to pay for it.”
Months after ramming through deficit-exploding tax cuts for billionaires and large corporations, President Donald Trump and the GOP are now looking for programs to slash to make up the difference—and they’re starting with children’s healthcare.
According to a Washington Post report late Monday, Trump is “sending a plan to Congress that calls for stripping more than $15 billion in previously approved spending,” $7 billion of which would come from the broadly popular Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Continue reading →
Rep. Mark Walker (R-NC) is the chair of the Republican Study Committee, a far-right caucus for House Republicans.
An ultraconservative Republican House caucus on Wednesday put forth its spending plan that represents a draconian wishlist of attacks on the social safety net and consumer and environmental protections while including a plan to further enrich the wealthy by making making permanent parts of the GOP tax plan.
The budget blueprint from the Republican Study Committee (RSC)—and titled A Framework of Unified Conservatism—says it “would take unprecedented steps to begin the deconstruction of the administrative state” and would cut $12.4 trillion over the next decade from federal spending. Continue reading →
After a short lecture, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin spoke with Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal at the UCLA Burkle Center for International Relations in Los Angeles. (Photo: UCLA)
Trump Treasury Secretary and former Goldman Sachs banker Steve Mnuchin isn’t accustomed to facing direct challenges to his wild economic claims or protests over the GOP tax plan he helped craft, and after experiencing both during an event at UCLA’s Burkle Center on Monday, Mnuchin demanded that video of his appearance be suppressed.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Mnuchin complained to the audience that he usually only talks to “people who wanna listen to me speak” after students and others attending the event yelled out “I think you’re full of shit” and denounced the Republican tax bill as an attack on “people who are in poverty.” Continue reading →
White House National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. Screenshot: YouTube
Almost everyone—nonpartisan commentators, economists, and even President Donald Trump’s chief economic adviser—predicted that corporate shareholders and CEOs, not workers, would be the primary beneficiaries of the Republican tax law, and several recent analyses have shown that prediction to be right on the money.
While many corporations immediately launched aggressive PR campaigns crediting the tax plan Trump signed in December with new “investments” in employees, a study by the nonprofit group JUST Capital published on Wednesday found that the sensational headlines touting worker bonuses obscured the fact that the vast majority of the law’s benefits have gone straight to the pockets of wealthy shareholders. Continue reading →
“Empty platitudes and anti-Trump rhetoric is not enough to win seats in Congress,” said Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.). (Photo: Molly Adams/Flickr/cc)
As Republicans and President Donald Trump turn toward the new year with destruction on their minds, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) joined a chorus of voices in expressing the urgent need to reach beyond merely resisting the right’s agenda and articulate an inspiring alternative that will sweep progressives into positions of power.
“Here is a New Year’s resolution I hope you will share with me,” Sanders wrote on Twitter just before midnight on Sunday. “In 2018, we will not only intensify the struggle against Trumpism, we will increase our efforts to spread the progressive vision in every corner of the land.” Continue reading →
President Donald Trump has repeatedly described the Republican tax bill he signed into law on Friday as “an incredible Christmas gift” to low-income and middle class Americans—despite the numerous analyses showing that the legislation will ultimately raise taxes on millions in the middle class.
The president hasn’t, however, called the tax bill a massive “check to himself.” But a new study (pdf) published on Friday by Americans for Tax Fairness (ATF) demonstrates that this would, in numerous ways, be a more accurate description of the $1.5 trillion plan. Continue reading →
After decades of bitter struggle, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge seems on the verge of being opened to the oil industry. The consensus tax bill Republicans are trying to pass retains this measure, which was added to gain the key vote of Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski.
This bill, however, stands no chance of being the final word. ANWR has been called America’s Serengeti and the last petroleum frontier, terms I’ve seen used over more than a decade studying this area and the politics around it. But even these titles merely hint at the multifold conflict ANWR represents – spanning politics, economics, culture and philosophy.
Differing views from the start
Little of this debate, which stretches back decades, makes sense without some background. Let’s begin with wildlife, the core of why the refuge exists.
With 45 species of land and marine mammals and over 200 species of birds from six continents, ANWR is more biodiverse than almost any area in the Arctic. This is especially true of the coastal plain portion, or 1002 Area, the area now being opened up to exploration and drilling. This has the largest number of polar bear dens in Alaska and supports muskoxen, Arctic wolves, foxes, hares and dozens of fish species. It also serves as temporary home for millions of migrating waterfowl and the Porcupine Caribou herd which has its calving ground there.
All of which merely suggests the unique concentration of life in ANWR and the opportunity it offers to scientific study. One part of the debate is therefore over how drilling might impact this diversity.
At the same time, debate over this area’s mineral resources has existed since even before Alaska’s founding. An effort by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to withdraw part of northeast Alaska from mining (later drilling) was eventually passed by the House in 1960 but then killed in the Senate, on the urging of both Alaska senators. It was resurrected by President Eisenhower through an executive order establishing a wildlife range (not refuge, which requires government protection and study).
ANWR thus began as a battleground over state versus federal control of resources. Change came with the oil crises of the 1970s. After much debate, Congress passed and President Carter signed the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act in 1980, increasing the size of the area to 19.4 million acres and changing it to a “refuge.” ANILCA also mandated an evaluation of wildlife, oil and natural gas resources, and impacts if drilling occurred.
Such evaluation was delivered to Congress in 1987, with three principal conclusions. First, the 1.5 million-acre 1002 Area, had “outstanding wilderness values.” Second, it also had large hydrocarbon resources, likely tens of billions of barrels. Third, oil development would bring widespread changes in habit, but adequate protection for wildlife was achievable and leasing should proceed.
Made public, these results ignited major opposition from environmental groups. However, low oil prices meant that no companies would be interested in drilling so no action toward leasing was taken. Over the next 20 years, Congress and the President traded blows over drilling, with Republicans passing or proposing legislation in favor and Democrats voting down or vetoing or the relevant bills.
Matters of wilderness
These struggles added support to a larger view: that wilderness is incompatible with any level of development. The stance is often referenced to the 1964 Wilderness Act, a venerable law protecting wildlands but one whose definition of “wilderness” is ambiguous: “an area of undeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character…[that] generally appears to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature, with the imprint of man’s work substantially unnoticeable.” The vagueness here allows for ANILCA’s position that drilling could happen so long as protection of wildlife and reclamation of land occurred.
Saving ANWR has thus become an effort to save the very idea of wilderness, culturally and philosophically.
How much oil?
The most recent comprehensive assessment of oil and gas in the 1002 Area was by the U.S. Geological Survey in 1998. This work shows a mean estimate of 10.4 billion barrels of oil and 35 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, which at today’s prices ($57/bbl oil, $3/kcf) equals a total value of about $600 billion before drilling.
If well costs were $50 a barrel (low for onshore Arctic drilling today but possible with cost reductions spurred by 1002 development), the value after extraction would be $100 billion, from which a federal royalty of 12.5 percent must be subtracted, yielding $87.5 billion – a significant sum. Obviously if well costs are higher, this figure would be lower. Note that Alaska gets 90 percent of that federal royalty and pays a yearly dividend to every state resident – one reason many Alaskans favor drilling and reject the uncompromising wilderness position.
When considering how oil and gas is available, the USGS estimates should be considered low, even minimal. This is because they were made well before the current era of shale oil and gas and tight oil and gas development. New discoveries and use of fracking to the west of ANWR suggest there is more accessible petroleum. How much more? It’s impossible to say, given the many uncertainties.
Though only one well has ever been drilled in the 1002 Area, dozens have been sited in surrounding onshore and offshore areas. These have resulted in a number of limited discoveries and one substantial field, Point Thomson, which is estimated to have recoverable reserves of up to 6 trillion cubic feet of gas and 850 million barrels of oil plus condensate. It began producing in 2016, yet its reservoir is geologically complex, challenging and insufficiently understood, causing difficulties and raising costs.
But Point Thomson’s larger significance could stem from its location: Close to the northwestern margin of 1002, it has brought a pipeline connection to the Trans-Alaska Pipeline right to ANWR’s doorstep.
But will they come?
Given the substantial possible reserves and at least some pipeline access, how interested might energy companies actually be in ANWR? The answer for now seems to be: not very. This comes from my own discussions with industry personnel and from the results of a recent lease sale in NPR-A, the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska to the west of ANWR: Out of 900 tracts offered, only seven received bids (0.008 percent). A December 7, 2017 lease sale on state lands did only somewhat better (0.04 percent), with a single company bidding on tracts near the 1002 Area, adjacent to the Point Thomson field, and in the immediate area of two small, undeveloped discoveries (Sourdough and Yukon Gold) made by BP in 1994.
If this be any indication, another multiyear period of high oil prices – in a range, say, over $80 per barrel – needs to arrive before 1002 looks attractive. Leasing and drilling in an area with extreme weather, little detailed data on the subsurface geology, no discoveries or production, and no existing infrastructure is considered high risk, all the more so in an uncertain price environment like today’s.
My own guess is that the estimated $1.1 billion revenue from an ANWR leasing program has roughly the same probability of coming true as the discovery that climate change is indeed a Chinese hoax. Similarly, we should probably view with a dash of skepticism Sen. Murkowski’s statements that opening ANWR will “create thousands of good jobs … keep energy affordable for families and businesses … reduce the federal deficit, and strengthen our national security” by reducing foreign oil. Regardless of what claims are being made now, one can say the measure would undoubtedly deliver on a long-standing promise to Alaskan voters.
Meanwhile, from an environmental perspective, climate change continues to alter and damage the Arctic, even if no development happens. As such, it is hard not to hope that we will never need the oil that lies beneath the refuge.
In the end, whichever way we turn, no stable compromise exists in this conflict. Opening the area to leasing now will not prevent a closing or ban later on. Even native voices are divided on the issue: The Inupiat who live in Kaktovik, who depend on sea life for sustenance, would welcome the work that drilling could bring, while the Gwich’in to the south, who rely on the caribou, see development as jeopardizing their culture.
Legal challenges to any level of leasing are certain, including those intended to slow the process until drilling opponents will win later elections, if they can.
The one truth all can agree on is that ANWR has never been a “refuge” in the landscape of American society.