Environmentalists sound the alarm on ANWR

The debate over whether to open the coastal plain in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration is back in the news. And as always, the lines are clearly drawn in Washington, D.C. (USFWS, Alaska Dispatch)
The fate of the plain has been in dispute for 40 years. (USFWS, Alaska Dispatch)
Environmentalists are warning that the Republican plan to cut taxes could include a move that would open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling.

A draft of the Senate budget plan for 2018 is likely to emerge next week. No one expects the document to mention the Arctic Refuge by name. Lydia Weiss of The Wilderness Society said she’s concerned it will include vague instructions to the Senate Energy Committee to find a billion dollars or more in revenues.

“There is no doubt that that is an invitation to Sen. Murkowski to attach an Arctic Refuge drilling rider,” Weiss told reporters Wednesday.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski chairs the energy committee. Opening the refuge to drilling is a top priority for her, as it’s been for Alaska’s congressional delegation for 40 years.

Neither her office nor Sen. Dan Sullivan’s answered questions about the strategy Wednesday. Murkowski had little to say about it, according to reporters who caught up with her.

A new hope for development

Weiss and other environmentalists say ANWR doesn’t belong in the budget.

“Drilling in the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge is wildly unpopular, and always has been across the Lower 48,” Weiss said. “This is America’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. It is public, federal land. It belongs to all of us.”

But ANWR could hold a lot of oil, and the idea of exploring it has a lot of support in Alaska.

The Trump administration has revived hopes for development. The Interior Department is trying to allow 3-D seismic work on the coastal plain.

If ANWR is included in the 2018 budget reconciliation package, it would only need 50 votes to pass in the Senate, because that kind of bill can’t be filibustered.

Several Republican senators oppose ANWR drilling, along with nearly all the Democrats, so passage is not assured.

Related stories from around the North:

Liz Ruskin, Alaska Public Media

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