Senate GOP sets path for Alaska refuge drilling
Senate Republicans introduced a budget proposal Friday that could pave the way for allowing drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) for the first time in decades.
The budget blueprint asks the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which has jurisdiction over the refuge, to develop policies that would save at least $1 billion over the next decade.
Lawmakers widely expect that that gap is meant to be filled with the revenues from allowing drilling in ANWR, a federal reserve in northeastern Alaska that was protected in 1960 but has a small coastal area that Congress designated for possible oil and gas drilling.
Through the budget reconciliation process, having a $1 billion figure in the budget would allow the refuge to be opened for drilling with a 51-vote majority. Republicans hold 52 seats in the Senate.
By contrast, most legislation in the Senate requires 60 votes to overcome a potential filibuster.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who chairs the Energy Committee, is a leading proponent of ANWR drilling and has introduced legislation every year to allow drilling in the 1.5 billion-acre coastal area, known as the 1002 area.
Murkowski applauded the budget in a statement Friday, though did not say whether she would work to allow ANWR drilling to fulfill the requirement.
“This provides an excellent opportunity for our committee to raise $1 billion in federal revenues while creating jobs and strengthening our nation’s long-term energy security. I am confident that our committee is prepared to meet the instruction in this resolution,” she said in a statement.
Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) have opposed ANWR drilling in the past, but it is unclear if they would support it this time around.
Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) called the budget provision a “poison pill.”
“There is bipartisan opposition to drilling in our nation’s most pristine wildlife refuge and any effort to include it in the tax package would only further imperil the legislation as a whole,” he said in a statement. “I will fight vigorously on the Senate floor to remove this extraneous giveaway to Big Oil from the budget and protect this special place.”
Environmentalists also pledged a fight, on the grounds that drilling would disturb the flora and fauna of the refuge, and the oil and gas would be destructive to the climate.
“Congress must reject any budget reconciliation bill that includes drilling in America’s Arctic Refuge or cuts to programs that protect health and our communities,” said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club. “We can not allow a misguided zeal to drill to override the promise of a healthy future for our communities, complete with the promise of the wild.”
The Senate Budget Committee is due to vote on the budget blueprint next week. Any move on ANWR drilling would be a separate process, and would also require House approval.
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