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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 John TrumpFox News president, top anchors advised to quarantine after coronavirus exposure: report Six notable moments from Trump and Biden's '60 Minutes' interviews Biden on attacks on mental fitness: Trump thought '9/11 attack was 7/11 attack' 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 SchatzSenate Democrats hold talkathon to protest Barrett's Supreme Court nomination Coordinated federal leadership is needed for recovery of US travel and tourism Senate Democrats call for ramped up Capitol coronavirus testing 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 MurkowskiGOP clears key hurdle on Barrett's Supreme Court nomination, setting up Monday confirmation Senators battle over Supreme Court nominee in rare Saturday session Murkowski says she will vote to confirm Barrett to Supreme Court on Monday 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 HuffmanOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Democrats push expansion of offshore wind, block offshore drilling with ocean energy bill | Poll: Two-thirds of voters support Biden climate plan | Biden plan lags Green New Deal in fighting emissions from homes Democrats push expansion of offshore wind, block offshore drilling with ocean energy bill OVERNIGHT ENERGY:  House passes sweeping clean energy bill | Pebble Mine CEO resigns over secretly recorded comments about government officials  | Corporations roll out climate goals amid growing pressure to deliver 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 McCainMark Kelly releases Spanish ad featuring Rep. Gallego More than 300 military family members endorse Biden Jennifer Lawrence says until Trump she was 'a little Republican' MORE (Ariz.) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSenate Democrats hold talkathon to protest Barrett's Supreme Court nomination Trump autographs pumpkin at Maine campaign event: 'It'll be on eBay tonight' Trump makes rare campaign stops in New England in closing stretch MORE (Maine) to oppose drilling, but both supported a Senate-passed tax bill that included ANWR earlier this month. 

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 CurbeloThe Memo: Trump furor stokes fears of unrest GOP wants more vision, policy from Trump at convention Mucarsel-Powell, Giménez to battle for Florida swing district MORE (Fla.), Ryan CostelloRyan Anthony CostellloBottom Line Trump struggles to stay on script, frustrating GOP again Bottom line MORE (Pa.) and Dave ReichertDavid (Dave) George ReichertWashington Rep. Kim Schrier wins primary Mail ballot surge places Postal Service under spotlight Bottom Line 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 YoungDemocrats, GOP fighting over largest House battlefield in a decade Coordinated federal leadership is needed for recovery of US travel and tourism Alaska may select our next president 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.