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Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Debate Heats Up Again
On November 15, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved by a vote of 13-10 budget reconciliation language that would open up a portion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for energy development. The action comes after the FY2018 budget resolution passed by Congress in late October included language calling for $1 billion in new revenues over the next decade be included by congressional resource committees during the budget reconciliation process.
The reconciliation language, part of Senator Lisa Murkowski’s (R-AK) Chairman’s Mark, would authorize energy development in what’s known as the “1002 Area” of the coastal plain which is not part of designated wilderness. There would be a 16.67 percent royalty rate on any development and 50 percent of the revenues would be allocated to the state of Alaska while 50 percent would go to the federal Treasury. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that these provisions would generate $1.092 billion over the 10-year budget window.
“Our bipartisan vote today is another positive step forward for Alaska and our nation, and I thank my colleagues for their strong support,” Murkowski said. “Opening a small part of the non-wilderness 1002 Area for responsible energy development will create thousands of good jobs, keep energy affordable for families and businesses, ensure a steady long-term supply of American energy, generate new wealth, reduce the federal deficit, and strengthen our national security.”
Opponents of development in the Arctic Refuge say the estimates of how much revenue could be generated are much less and the risk is not worth the potential damage to the refuge. The coastal plain of the refuge provides important habitat for migratory waterfowl, polar bears, and caribou. Senate Democrats are also frustrated by the procedural maneuver because adding the language to the larger tax package in the reconciliation process will allow it to be considered by a simple majority vote without the potential of a filibuster.
“At its core, the Chairman’s Mark would manage and change current law of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and turn it into a petroleum reserve. That’s what this Mark does. It turns the Coastal Plain in this refuge into an oil field,” said Energy and Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member, Maria Cantwell (D-WA) in a statement. “We think that it is a critical habitat that should be protected and that it is not consistent with oil and gas development. Adding oil and gas development as a purpose of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge doesn’t make any sense for a wildlife refuge – it certainly does if you want to drill, but no other national wildlife refuge lists oil and gas development as a purpose of a wildlife refuge.”