Energy & Environment

Green group eyes infrastructure bill as vehicle for Arctic refuge reversal 


The Sierra Club sees congressional Democrats’ expected infrastructure package as a possible vehicle for reversing a controversial 2017 decision to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) for drilling.

The group, which opposes drilling at the Arctic refuge, argued in a list of policy priorities issued Monday that if Democrats choose to pass their infrastructure agenda through reconciliation, they should include a provision to nix drilling at the Alaska preserve.

“If the American Jobs Plan proceeds through a reconciliation process, it can be a vehicle for righting a deep wrong included in the 2017 Republican tax scam: opening up drilling in a national wildlife refuge,” reads the list, which was attributed to the group’s federal policy team.

“Protecting the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is one of the highest profile climate, human rights, conservation and environmental justice opportunities for this Congress and Administration,” they wrote.

The 2017 tax bill, which was also passed through reconciliation, opened up the refuge for drilling and requires two lease sales to be held there by the end of 2024.

Supporters of the move have said it would create jobs and generate revenue, while opponents have raised concerns about protecting wildlife, climate change and the Gwich’in people, who hunt caribou on the land.

Even if Democrats choose to pass the infrastructure bill through reconciliation, the ANWR provision could still face an uphill battle. 

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), a key swing vote in the chamber, opposed the 2017 bill but he also opposed an amendment that sought to prevent development at the refuge.

Targeting his opposition to that amendment, the Sierra Club hopes to make an economic argument to Manchin after sales at the refuge brought in just $14.4 million — much less than Republicans had predicted when the bill was passed.

“We think that the fact that the lease sale itself didn’t generate any money … the fact that financially it flopped, is hopefully a chance for him to reconsider that vote,” said Athan Manuel, director of the Sierra Club’s Lands Protection Program.

Mark Squillace, a law professor at the University of Colorado, said that if the plan is reversed, the government will have to reimburse the lessees who bought leases during the January sale.

“They’ll have to refund the money that’s been paid by the bidders,” Squillace said. “If they were willing to refund the bonus payments that were made, then it seems to me they could simply cancel the leases.”

Tags Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Arctic Refuge drilling controversy Joe Manchin
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