Senate Dems to fight ‘heartless’ Alaska refuge drilling proposal

Senate Dems to fight ‘heartless’ Alaska refuge drilling proposal
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Senate Democrats are planning an amendment to stop the GOP from using the budget process to more easily allow oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

Sen. Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyNet neutrality supporters predict tough court battle over FCC's repeal plan Avalanche of Democratic senators say Franken should resign Driverless car bill hits Senate speed bump MORE (D-Mass.) and a handful of others told reporters Tuesday that they’re working on how exactly to fight the ANWR provision in the budget, and they plan to have Republicans oppose it as well.

“We’re going to work together with our colleagues to determine just the right moment in this budgetary process to make this amendment,” Markey said outside the Capitol. “But we are going to do so, and we are reaching out to Republicans to try to make this as bipartisan as we can. It should be a bipartisan issue.”

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Markey called the ANWR provision “heartless,” “a budgetary scam” and “nothing more than a Big Oil polar payout.”

“This is exactly the kind of polarizing politics we need to get away from — giveaways to big oil and billionaires at the expense of the American people and our planet,” he said.

Sen. Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellAvalanche of Democratic senators say Franken should resign Week ahead: Trump expected to shrink two national monuments Live coverage: Senate Republicans pass tax bill MORE (Wash.), the top Democrat on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, criticized the GOP for using the opaque budget process to push ANWR drilling.

“It tells you something that this idea does not stand on its own. It tells you that every time it has to be paired with something else as almost a sneak attack, you have to vote for this because of these other issues,” she said.

“When are they going to stop holding us all hostage to vote for the Arctic Wildlife Refuge being opened, when in reality, oil companies today aren’t even interested in drilling there at this price?”

The Senate is voting on its budget this week, which is meant to set high-level funding limits for the government, though it does not actually set the funding amounts.

The legislation, as proposed by the GOP, would ask the Energy and Natural Resources Committee to pass legislation to raise $1 billion over the next 10 years.

Although it does not mention the federally owned wildlife refuge specifically, government revenue from ANWR drilling is by far the most likely way to get to the $1 billion total.

And since it would be in the budget, a drilling bill would only require a 51-vote majority, an easier climb for the GOP than the 60 votes needed for most legislation.

“What’s happening here is an effort that they know will not withstand the light of day,” said Sen. Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetAvalanche of Democratic senators say Franken should resign GOP and Dems bitterly divided by immigration Schumer downplays shutdown chances over DACA fight MORE (D-Colo.). “That’s why they put it on this budget bill, that’s why they’re trying to do it in middle of the night.”

Drilling supporters have not conceded that the $1 billion ask in the budget is meant for the ANWR.

“I don’t think it’s an ANWR provision. It’s just producing more energy for America. I would find that remarkable that anyone would not want to produce more energy for America,” said Sen. Dan SullivanDaniel Scott SullivanThe Hill's Whip List: Where Republicans stand on Senate tax bill Alaska senator proposes drilling in Arctic refuge Corker to hold hearing on president's nuclear weapons authority MORE (R-Alaska).

“Who would be against energy for America? That could be for renewables. Is Franken, Markey against renewables? You guys should ask them that question,” he said, referring to Sen. Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenDemocrats turn on Al Franken Schumer called, met with Franken and told him to resign Overnight Finance: Trump says shutdown 'could happen' | Ryan, conservatives inch closer to spending deal | Senate approves motion to go to tax conference | Ryan promises 'entitlement reform' in 2018 MORE (D-Minn.). The Energy Committee would be able to reach the $1 billion through any legislation within its purview, not just opening the ANWR to drilling.

Nonetheless, Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiMcConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees Week ahead: Trump expected to shrink two national monuments GOP on verge of opening Arctic refuge to drilling MORE (R-Alaska), chairwoman of the Energy Committee and a longtime supporter of ANWR drilling, supports the budget as proposed.

“My goal is to make sure that those instructions get through the process,” she said of the provision.

Congress created the refuge in 1977. It left the possibility open for drilling in a small area on the coast, though lawmakers reserved the right to make a decision on drilling there to themselves and it has often cropped up as a political controversy since then.