Energy & Environment

House votes to block drilling in Arctic refuge


The House on Thursday passed legislation that would block drilling along the shoreline of Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

The 225-193 vote in favor of the bill, which follows the passage of two offshore drilling bans on Wednesday, sends a signal to Senate Republicans and the White House, who have said the climate change-focused legislation has no future in the upper chamber or as a law.

“Most Americans would agree there are some places so special, so wild, so spectacular, that they have to be off limits to being spoiled by oil and gas development,” said Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), sponsor of the House bill. “If you believe that, then surely that proposition has to apply to the Arctic refuge.”

{mosads}Republicans have long sought drilling in the 19 million acres of Alaskan wilderness. An amendment from Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) added to the 2017 Tax Cut and Jobs Act brought the prospect of drilling closer to reality by mandating the government hold two lease sales in the coastal plain of ANWR.

The language was heavily criticized by Democrats and conservationists alike.

“Thanks to that drilling mandate slipped into their 2017 tax scam, the Trump administration is now recklessly rushing to ruin the Arctic Refuge with oil rigs,” Huffman said.

Thursday’s House vote comes as lawmakers are facing a dwindling timeline to act. The lease sales prompted by Murkowski’s amendment are expected to begin shortly. An environmental impact statement analyzing the project is expected soon, one of the final steps before leases can be sold.

“Then there’s that mandatory 30-day waiting period and after that it’s open for bidding under law,” said Nora Apter with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The administration has, since the passage of the tax act, been barreling full speed ahead through the environmental review process to get leases out on public lands.”

During debate, Republicans sought to minimize the scope of the 400,000 acres up for grabs during lease sales, comparing the set-aside acreage to the size of a postage stamp on a wall or the size of a football on a football field.

“It has the resources, and it’s time to develop those resources because the failure to develop those resources we have in this country to meet the energy needs of our nation means that we continue to be dependent on other nations,” said Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.). “It’s time for America to develop the resource that God gave us when he blessed this great nation.”

Democrats, meanwhile, argued the U.S. should stop exporting its oil in order to become energy independent and respect local voices across the nation that oppose drilling along their shorelines.

A companion bill was introduced in the Senate on Wednesday, but the legislation, led by Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), is unlikely to pass in the Republican-led chamber.

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works committee, said the House bill had zero chance of success in the Senate.

“It’s like the Green New Deal. This far-left agenda that they have. The majority of the House Democrats have co-sponsored it, so it’s in keeping with their radical plans which would significantly hurt the economy,” he said.

He also said that efforts should be focused on limiting emissions outside the U.S., not cutting back on energy production.

“The reality is that the emissions in the United States have been going down much lower now than they have been a decade ago. The emissions in China are going up. The emissions in India are going up,” he said, adding climate change fears are “legitimate, but not an existential crisis the way the Democrats have been framing it.”

President Trump has also threatened to veto the House bill.

“That’s a difficult impediment. We got our eyes wide open. But you don’t just give up, you continue the fight. The American people are with us. The facts are with us. History is with us. We’re going to keep fighting this,” Huffman told reporters.

Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) said the legislation, along with two bills passed Wednesday that block drilling on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and parts of the Gulf of Mexico, was necessary to stop the Trump administration from drilling “everywhere, every time, without exception.”

Grijalva, the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, pointed to a top Department of the Interior staffer who is leaving the agency to work for a company pursuing drilling in Alaska, according to reporting in The Washington Post.

The Trump administration has proven keen to explore drilling options in Alaska and is currently engaged in a legal battle to undo the eleventh hour protections put in place by former President Obama that block drilling in large swaths of the Arctic.

Tags Donald Trump Ed Markey Jared Huffman Jeff Duncan John Barrasso Lisa Murkowski

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