House budget could lead to Alaska refuge drilling

House budget could lead to Alaska refuge drilling
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The House GOP budget proposal released Tuesday could lead to oil and natural gas drilling being permitted in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

The blueprint from the House Budget Committee for fiscal year 2018 asks the Natural Resources Committee to pass legislation to reduce the government’s deficit by $5 billion over 10 years.

Democrats and environmentalists harshly criticized the blueprint, calling it a veiled attempt to clear the way for ANWR drilling since revenues from associated fees and royalties would help the government’s coffers.

Rep. John YarmuthJohn YarmuthTax reform sprint leaves little time for funding fight Democrats split over priorities for end-of-year battle House adopts Senate budget, takes step toward tax reform MORE (Ky.), the top Democrat on the Budget Committee, said that Democrats might propose an amendment to remove the ANWR provision.

“We haven't talked about an amendment on that specific provision yet — we just found out about that earlier today — but that's something that we might consider,” he told reporters Tuesday.

Greens also promised to put up a fight.

“This is a shameless attempt to push an extremely unpopular action through the back door of Congress on behalf of President Trump and the oil lobby,” Drew McConville, senior managing director for government affairs at the Wilderness Society, said in a statement.

“We’re confident that Americans will see through this scam and once again demand that the Arctic Refuge remain protected. This refuge is a national treasure, and we have a moral obligation to protect it for future generations of Americans. It is simply too special to drill.”

“Our homelands are under attack,” said Bernadette Demientieff, executive director of the steering committee for the Gwich’in people, native to Alaska and northwestern Canada.

“The very existence and identity of the Gwich'in is under threat. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is a sacred place. We want to continue to live our cultural and traditional life with the Porcupine Caribou herd.”

The oil industry supports opening ANWR to drilling, and applauded the budget language.

"Alaskans are largely supportive of oil and natural gas development in the state, and studies have shown the ANWR coastal plain holds the largest undeveloped conventional oil resources to be found in the U.S.," said American PetroleuM Institute spokeswoman Brooke Sammon.

"Industry’s long record of drilling and production on the Alaska North Slope demonstrates that resources at ANWR could be developed in an environmentally responsible way," she said. "Opening it would be an important step towards increasing American competitiveness and securing our nation’s energy future."

Congress in 1977 asked the executive branch to study drilling in the coastal plain area of the ANWR in northern Alaska. But Congress would have to act separately to allow drilling.

Since then, the oil industry and Republicans have been pushing for drilling in the ANWR, while Democrats and greens have opposed it.

The Trump administration also wants to open the ANWR to drilling and assumed $1.8 billion in government income over the next decade from such drilling.

Niv Ellis contributed to this story.