Republican senator wants to open up Alaskan wildlife refuge to drilling, and people are livid

Legislation would open up 1.5 million acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas production

Published November 9, 2017 1:39PM (EST)

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

In an effort to help pay for tax reform, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, introduced new legislation on Wednesday night that would open up parts of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil and gas production. The project anticipates reeling in an estimated $1 billion in federal revenue over the next decade.

Murkowski said the future projects would be a "tremendous opportunity" for the country, according to HuffPost.

The legislation would "put Alaska and the entire nation on a path toward greater prosperity by creating jobs, keeping energy affordable for families and businesses, generating new wealth, and strengthening our security — while reducing the federal deficit not just by $1 billion over 10 years, but tens or even hundreds of billions of dollars over the decades to come," said Murkowski, who chairs the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

Murkowski's Senate panel held a hearing last week in which oil and gas production in the refuge's 1.5 million acre coastal plain, which is also called the 1002 Area, was discussed. A provision inside the Senate budget plan requires that the panel "find $1 billion in additional revenue over the next decade to help pay for tax reform," HuffPost reported.

The sale of leasing rights would pave the way for an estimated $1.092 billion over the course of the next decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office, Murkowski said. The bill would only need 51 votes in the Senate to pass instead of the typical 60 votes, due to the "reconciliation" measures in Congress' 2018 budget plan.

Critics have made it clear that the bill threatens the environment and falls in line with the agenda of President Donald Trump's administration that is hellbent on ramping up fossil fuel production with little regard for the environmental consequences.

"What this bill would do is turn America’s last great wilderness into a lost wilderness," said Adam Kolton, executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League, in a statement. "Senator Lisa Murkowski had promised some kind of new and improved directional drilling, but that’s just a talking point. What we got was simply misdirection and deception. The fact is that the entire 1.5 million acres could be offered up in two massive lease sales."

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., has also fought back against the legislation. During the hearing last week, she said, "If you want to open up the Arctic refuge, you should just admit you’re going to destroy the wildlife refuge."

But it's not just environmental advocates and Democrats; 37 U.S.-based scientists have made the case against the bill as well. In a letter to both Murkowski and Cantwell, scientists focusing on wildlife in the Arctic condemned the legislation and said that using the refuge for oil and gas production would be "incompatible with the purposes for which the refuge was established"

The lease sales would need to be approved by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, the Secretary of the Interior.

The ANWR is the largest national wildlife refuge in the U.S. and covers over 19 million acres in the northeastern parts of Alaska. It serves as a home for a wide range of animal life including polar bears, caribou and much more.

"This is not a choice between energy and the environment," Murkowski said. "We are past that."

Murkowski's top contributors over at least the last four years have been the oil and gas industry, which has given her $757,146 since 2013, according to OpenSecrets.

By Charlie May

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