Democrats continue fight against drilling in Arctic wildlife refuge in U.S. Congress

A view of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/Getty Images)
Democrats in Washington, D.C. are still hoping to block drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). The latest attempt surfaced at a U.S. House committee meeting.

Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., said she’s just trying to hold Republicans to what they said when they put ANWR drilling in their 2017 tax bill.

“The first lease sale was supposed to raise $1 billion. That was all part of the tax bill – to make it work,” she told the House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday. As an Appropriations subcommittee chair, McCollum drafts the bill that funds the Interior Department.

Half the lease revenue is supposed to go to the state of Alaska, and half to the federal treasury. So McCollum’s bill says the Interior Department can’t hold a lease sale unless it sets a minimum per-acre bid high enough to raise half a billion dollars.

“If the Department leases a minimum of 400,000 acres, as required by law, then all they need to do is put out a lease sale that requires companies to bid $2,500 per acre,” she said.

That’s an enormous amount. The highest bids in the National Petroleum Reserve, west of ANWR, haven’t even crested $100 per acre in years.

Republican amendment

Republicans tried to remove the ANWR hurdle.

“I have an amendment that’s supported by the entire – unanimous support of the Alaskan congressional delegation,” said Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Calif., making a little joke about the fact that Alaska has just one House member.

Congressman Don Young isn’t on the appropriations committee, so Calvert made the case to remove McCollum’s restriction on ANWR leasing. Calvert pointed to government estimates saying there’s probably a lot of oil up there.

“In addition to creating jobs, opening the area will allow us to reduce our dependence on foreign sources of oil and increase our exports of oil,” he said.

Calvert’s amendment failed, so the ANWR stumbling block remains in the Interior spending bill. The House Appropriations Committee approved the bill, sending it to the full House.

Democrats and environmental groups are trying to draw attention to the refuge, to keep the issue alive and to do what they can to slow the Interior Department’s progress toward leasing there. But the chances of this provision becoming law are minimal.

The author of the Senate version of the spending bill is Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and she’s eager to see oil development in the Arctic Refuge.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Ottawa signals it’s open to talks on offshore Arctic oil and gas development, Radio Canada International

Norway: Greenpeace activists board oil platform in Arctic Norway, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Novatek announces third LNG project in Arctic Russia, The Independent Barents Observer

United States: Bill to protect ANWR passes early hurdle in Washington, CBC News

Liz Ruskin, Alaska Public Media

For more news from Alaska visit Alaska Public Media.

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