ANWR fight far from finish line

  • Alaska Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Sen. Dan Sullivan fought off attempts to remove a budget provision that would allow development of the coastal plain in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in an Oct. 19 vote, but the ultimate fate of the effort depends on successful passage of tax reform. (Photo/J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Whether Congress opens the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling rigs could hinge on the fate of President Donald Trump’s tax plan.

The House and Senate have both passed budget resolutions that include provisions to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration.

House Republicans inserted a provision directing the House Natural Resources Committee to come up with ways to generate at least $5 billion in new revenue over the next 10 years. Similarly, the Senate budget orders the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, chaired by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, to add $1 billion to the Treasury in the coming decade.

Revenue from oil and gas lease sales for the ANWR coastal plain is seen as a way to meet those instructions, and using prospective ANWR revenue to in theory help pay down on the national deficit allows the controversial action to be taken with a simple majority vote — all that is needed for budget matters in Congress.

House Republican leaders have said subsequent to the Senate’s Oct. 19 budget vote that they will likely acquiesce to the Senate’s budget in order to allow Congress to move on to the president’s tax reform bill.

Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul, a staunch fiscal conservative, was the only Republican vote against the budget measure, which barely passed the Senate 51-49.

An amendment to pull the ANWR language from the Senate budget failed on a 52-48 party line vote.

Murkowski said in a statement released shortly after the vote that the budget sets the stage to move on several Republican priorities.

“This budget resolution offers a tremendous opportunity to secure the future of Alaska, from long overdue federal tax reform to responsible energy development in a small part of the non-wilderness (ANWR) 1002 area. Tonight was just the first step, but we are now on a path that will allow us to create jobs, generate new wealth, keep energy affordable, and protect our national security,” Murkowski said.

Recent iterations of ANWR-opening legislation introduced in both the House and Senate by the Alaska congressional delegation have limited the overall development footprint inside the refuge’s coastal plain, or 1002 area, to 2,000 acres. The ANWR coastal plain is about 1.5 million acres of the total 19.2 million-acre refuge.

Rep. Don Young often touts that he has led ANWR-opening legislation through the House a dozen times during his tenure, but nearly each time it has failed in the Senate, which requires a filibuster-proof, 60-vote threshold to move most legislation.

President Bill Clinton vetoed the one ANWR bill to reach a president’s desk in 1996.

Republicans are trying to replicate what the House did while George W. Bush was president in 2005, when it included opening the ANWR coastal plain to industry activity in the fiscal year 2006 budget; however, it stalled in the Senate and failed to make the final budget.

This go-round, the Republican budget holds language that marries it to the tax plan, allowing each to be passed without Democrat support if the president can get enough support from Senate Republicans to avoid a repeat of the failed attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

The Associated Press reported Oct. 22 that House leaders hope to pass a tax bill by Thanksgiving.

The federal government is funded through Dec. 8 under a continuing resolution Congress passed in September.

Cuts to the corporate income tax and doubling the standard individual deduction, among other provisions, are being justified through the subsequent economic growth brought on by lower federal taxes that is expected to generate more taxable income in the country.

Elwood Brehmer can be reached at elwood.brehmer@alaskajournal.com.

Updated: 
10/25/2017 - 10:32am

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