Senators Spar Over Opening ANWR For Drilling
The Republican tax plan now being considered in a preliminary fashion by Congress has opened up once again the issue of drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).
The budget bill passed by the Senate last month instructed the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to find $1 billion in additional revenue, and that’s seen as a maneuver to open the refuge to drilling.
At a recent meeting of the committee Senators bickered over whether to allow drilling on one of last undisturbed pieces of real estate in the United States. At 1.5 million acres, ANWR is the largest national wildlife refuge in the country and is is owned by the federal government.
Chair Lisa Murkowski, a Republican of Alaska, argued that opening ANWR to drilling will boost the state’s economy and the nation’s energy security. On the other side of the issue was ranking member Maria Cantwell, Democrat of Washington, who was Mukowski’s partner on a bipartisan energy bill that the Alaska senator abandoned in favor of the ANWR issue.
“This hearing is a great departure from the strong working relationship that Senator Murkowski and I have set to work together on an energy agenda that will move our country forward,” Cantwell complained.
Murkowsi countered that it was “offensive” for anyone to claim that an ANWR drilling plan would “despoil our environment for short-term gain.”
ANWR has been the subject of controversy since the 1980s. Unsuccessful attempts by Alaska lawmakers to allow drilling in the refuge were introduced and shelved in the 1980s and 1990s. A 1995 bill passed by Congress was vetoed by President Bill Clinton. Another go at operning ANWR was defeated by moderate Republicans in 2005.
At the committee hearing, Murkowski contended that only “one ten-thousandth,” or 2,000 acres, of ANWR would be open to drilling if restrictions were eliminated. But Cantwell and Senator Angus King, an independent of Maine, who caucuses with Democrats, argued that Murkowski’s figure fails to account for the roads, airports, and pipelines that would be necessary to transport the oil out of the wilderness and to the Trans-Alaska Pipeline.
Drilling “will take up a significant portion of the refuge,” said Cantwell.
The hearing was attended by a boatload of Alaska officials and dignitaries, almost all of whom supported drilling. The lone dissenter was Samuel Alexander, a member of a native Alaska tribe.