Senate Republicans Agree to End Big Oil Subsidies After Watching Polar Bear Film
In an stunning reversal, Senate Republicans have accepted President Obama's call to end tax breaks for the oil and gas industry, reversing a procedural vote on Thursday that had killed the Mendendez Bill (S. 2204 - Repeal Subsidies and Tax Breaks for the Big 5 Oil Companies), introduced by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ). On Thursday, the bill was defeated by a vote of 51-47, nine votes short of the 60 required to pass.
But in a rare Saturday afternoon session called by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), the measure was swiftly rejuvenated—and passed—after nine of the Republicans who voted against the bill on Thursday had a change of heart after watching a sneak preview on Friday of To the Arctic, a documentary that follows the life of a mother polar bear caring for her two seven-month-old cubs in the Arctic. Narrated by three-time Oscar winner Meryl Streep, To the Arctic arrives in IMAX theaters on April 20.
The surprise passage of the bill puts the Senate more in line with a majority of the American people when it comes to big oil. A CNN/ORC poll taken last week found that 55 percent of Americans believe that oil companies deserve "a great deal of blame" for the recent increase in gas prices. The majority of Congressional Republicans have consistently voted against ending fossil fuel subsidies, which is unsurprising, considering that many Republican lawmakers receive contributions from and invest in the oil and gas industry. But with Saturday's abrupt turnaround, that is likely to change as well.
Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey believe that upwards of 50 billion barrels of oil lie within the continental shelf off the coast of Alaska, in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. But these are still unproven reservoirs. For comparison, Saudi Arabia has a proven 260 billion barrels.
One of the main concerns about drilling there is that the Arctic is a fragile ecosystem, with an ice shelf that is rapidly melting due to anthropogenic climate change, a factor that is harming much of the wildlife in the region, particularly the endangered polar bear, which needs the ice to hunt and rear young. Environmentalists and conservationists have long argued that oil drilling in Arctic would push the polar bear to extinction.
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