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Time running out for opponents of Arctic drilling

Time running out for opponents of Arctic drilling
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Opponents of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) are running out of time and leverage. 

Negotiators in Congress this week said a compromise Republican tax-cut bill will include a provision allowing drilling in ANWR, which has rich oil reserves. 

With GOP leadership looking to get the tax bill to President TrumpDonald TrumpKinzinger, Gaetz get in back-and-forth on Twitter over Cheney vote READ: Liz Cheney's speech on the House floor Cheney in defiant floor speech: Trump on 'crusade to undermine our democracy' MORE's desk by Christmas, environmentalists are running out of time to rally foes of ANWR drilling — and the prospects for success appear bleak.

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Even those House Republicans skeptical of ANWR drilling are indicating that its inclusion in the tax bill won’t be a deal-breaker.

Asked if drilling opponents are racing the clock, Sen. Brian SchatzBrian Emanuel SchatzDemocrats face big headaches on Biden's T spending plan Democrats introduce bill to give hotels targeted relief Senate Democrats push Biden over raising refugee cap MORE (D-Hawaii) replied, “Yes.”

“It’s an underrated aspect of this bill,” he said. “This has been a generations-long battle to preserve that refuge, and we’re going to find out the fate of it next week, so if anyone is not yet mobilized, now’s the time.” 

Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiCheney set to be face of anti-Trump GOP Utah county GOP censures Romney over Trump impeachment vote Bottom line MORE (R-Alaska) and the rest of her state’s congressional delegation have long pushed to allow for drilling in a corner of the 19-million-acre ANWR.

That effort was boosted earlier this year when Republican leadership made ANWR drilling a component of the tax-reform bill, the GOP’s top legislative priority.   

Murkowski confirmed this week that tax bill negotiators had agreed to include a provision in a final tax deal calling for lease sales in ANWR and a revenue sharing deal that would net the federal government a predicted $1 billion.

“This is new wealth from responsible development and the investment it brings,” she said Wednesday.

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Referring to the technical name of ANWR’s oil development region, Murkowski said, "It’s time to open up the 1,002 area, and it’s time to reform our broken tax code.”

Green groups have been urging activists to pepper Congress with complaints over the ANWR deal.

This week, a conservation group in Pennsylvania took out a newspaper ad calling on local Republicans to vote against any bill with refuge drilling included in it. Athan Manuel, the Sierra Club’s director of public lands protection, said his group is pushing supporters to call lawmakers and protest at local offices.

Groups have put cash behind the effort as well. The Wilderness Society has been running a $500,000 ad campaign against ANWR drilling in 15 House districts since last month. 

Environmentalists say their goal is to make the drilling issue politically potent.

“Our message is pretty consistent and clear: A vote for this bill is a vote to drill in the ANWR,” said Drew McConville, the Wilderness Society’s senior managing director for government relations. 

“I know there are other issues in this bill, but we fully expect that this is a big part of the calculation: You can’t be for preserving the refuge and vote of this bill,” McConville said.

But Democratic lawmakers and activists alike worry that message won’t be enough.

“I think that there’s a little bit of muscle fatigue in terms of being able to punch back,” Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) said. 

“I hope, if anything, [given] the urgency and the distinct possibility it could happen now … we have time to gear up and make it consequential for members to vote for it.”

Rep. Jared HuffmanJared William HuffmanLawmakers react to guilty verdict in Chauvin murder trial: 'Our work is far from done' Race debate grips Congress Democrats ask Biden to reverse employee policy on past marijuana use MORE (D-Calif.) said there is “so much distraction” surrounding the tax debate that it has obscured the Arctic drilling provisions within it.

“This is a hugely unpopular thing that they’re doing, tucked into a hugely unpopular tax bill that most people don’t understand,” he said.

Democrats had pinned their hopes on winning the support of moderate Republicans who have publicly opposed ANWR drilling, but those ranks are thinning. 

In the Senate, greens pushed for Sens. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainCheney set to be face of anti-Trump GOP Ex-McSally aide pleads guilty to stealing over 0K in campaign funds DOJ: Arizona recount could violate civil rights laws MORE (Ariz.) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSenate votes to repeal OCC 'true lender' rule Top female GOP senator compares Cheney ousting to 'cancel culture' Utah county GOP censures Romney over Trump impeachment vote MORE (Maine) to oppose drilling, but both supported a Senate-passed tax bill that included ANWR earlier this month. 

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Over in the House, 12 Republicans signed a letter in November saying they oppose opening up ANWR and urging leadership to pull the provision from the final tax bill. 

Yet only six of those Republicans voted against the House’s original bill. Of the other six, at least three — Reps. Carlos CurbeloCarlos Luis CurbeloCheney fight stokes cries of GOP double standard for women House Democrats call on Republicans to return Marjorie Taylor Greene donation Republicans race for distance from 'America First Caucus' MORE (Fla.), Ryan CostelloRyan Anthony CostellloRep. Brendan Boyle decides against Pennsylvania Senate bid Pennsylvania's Democratic lt. governor files to run for Senate Bottom Line MORE (Pa.) and Dave ReichertDavid (Dave) George ReichertRep. Kim Schrier defends Washington House seat from GOP challenger Washington Rep. Kim Schrier wins primary Mail ballot surge places Postal Service under spotlight MORE (Wash.) — did not commit to voting against a tax bill with ANWR included.

“I don’t think that there’s any one provision that would motivate me to deny tax relief for all of my constituents,” Curbelo said. Costello said ANWR wouldn’t make a tax bill “fatally defective” for him.

“This is a serious issue, and I’ve been making my feelings known on it and going for some consideration of its removal,” Reichert said.

Manuel acknowledged environmentalists’ arguments against drilling haven’t resonated with Republicans the way opponents had hoped.

He blamed both political pressure on Republicans to get a tax bill done this year and the way the debate over the legislation has focused on the tax provisions within it.

He said his group’s aim now is to try messaging against the bill as a whole.

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“We’re focusing on taking down the whole tax package. That’s been our message, but we’ve led with the Arctic,” he said.  

“We made a real good faith effort to pull it out on the floor of the Senate, and trying to get moderate Republicans to take it out. Now it’s all about taking down the bill,” Manuel said.

Supporters of the ANWR provision have dug in, insisting they’ll get the drilling plan — and the tax bill — to Trump this year.  

“Thank God I wore my cowboy boots today,” Rep. Don YoungDonald (Don) Edwin YoungFive takeaways on the House's return to budget earmarks Does Biden have an ocean policy? McCarthy and Biden haven't spoken since election MORE (R-Alaska) said at a tax bill hearing Wednesday, speaking to opponents of ANWR drilling.

“You know why cowboys wear cowboy boots? They keep their damn pants clean from the horse manure that comes from people that don’t know what the hell they’re talking about,” he said.