After a markup session that lasted more than three hours, the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources approved legislation that could open up the 1002 Area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil and gas development by a vote of 13-10. The bill, sponsored by Senator Lisa Murkowski, is being considered in coordination with the 2018 federal budget proposal. Today’s approval by the Committee is the latest move since the Senate passed a budget resolution that included the ANWR provision in a vote of 51-49 last month.
Chairman Murkowski began today’s meeting by emphasizing why opening up ANWR to energy development is important for both Alaska and the nation as a whole.
By allowing oil and gas companies to lease land in ANWR’s Coastal 1002 area Murkowski said, “We’ll also create thousands of good jobs that will help support families and put kids through college; we’ll help keep energy affordable, saving families and businesses money every time they pay for fuel essentially an energy tax cut; [and] we’ll ensure a steady supply of energy for West Coast refineries in states like Washington and California.”
Murkowski also touted the fact that the majority of Alaskans support her bill. In fact, many have publically advocated on behalf of the issue, urging Congress to approve the legislation.
The Arctic Slope Regional Corporation (ASRC), an organization made up of over 13,000 Alaskan Inupiaq stakeholders, issued a statement expressing its excitement in response to today’s vote.
“Today is another important milestone in Alaskan’s fight to open up ANWR to responsible energy development and I commend Chairwoman Murkowski, Senator Sullivan and Congressman Young for their efforts in advancing legislation.”
The mayor of Kaktovik, the only Alaskan village that lies completely within the Coastal 1002 area, and Vice President of Voice of the Arctic Iñupiat (VOICE) John Hopson Jr. has also spoken out in favor of opening ANWR to oil and gas development.
“Collectively, we are concerned about the future of our communities and, as of today, we stand together, with our members from Kaktovik, in support of ANWR development as part of the economic solution for the Arctic Slope region,” Hopson stated in a letter announcing VOICE’s support of the legislation.
Murkowski’s introduction to the legislation was followed by members of the Committee discussing and offering amendments to the bill. Several dissenting members opposed the legislation out of concern for the environment, citing implications that may arise from opening an area of land dedicated to preserving wildlife to energy development.
In response to these remarks, Murkowski assured her colleagues the bill would not rollback any environmental reviews of the land and highlighted Alaska’s commitment to stringent operating requirements.
“I would not support development if I was not convinced we could do it safely,” the senator said. “I can assure you the standards in Alaska are the highest in the country, if not the highest in the world, in terms of environmental compliance.”
All four amendments that were proposed in opposition of the legislation and voted on in the markup session failed.
Because it was drafted under budget reconciliation instructions, whether the bill becomes a law is ultimately dependent upon the Republicans’ tax bill that is currently moving through Congress. The Senate’s budget plan directed the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources to produce about $1 billion in revenue over the next decade. Opening ANWR to energy development would do just that.