House okays oil and gas leasing of ANWR coastal plain

May 26, 2006
The House passed a another bill authorizing oil and gas leasing of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain May 26 as opponents protested that supporters had choked off debate.

Nick Snow
Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON, DC, May 26 -- The House passed a another bill authorizing oil and gas leasing of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain May 26 as opponents protested that supporters had choked off debate.

The measure, HR 5429, survived a last-minute effort to recommit it to the House Resources Committee, which had approved it soon after it was introduced on May 22. Opponents objected because it arrived on the floor under a rule prohibiting amendments.

The bill now moves to the Senate, which usually has opposed ANWR leasing in the past.

Members debated first the rule and then the bill itself for more than 2 hr. Most Republicans favored it, and most Democrats opposed it. Several opponents made floor statements against it before debate even began.

There was general agreement that ANWR leasing would not solve US energy problems by itself. The disagreement was over whether it would be an appropriate part of a bigger set of energy initiatives.

Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) pointed out that the US Geological survey calls ANWR the largest onshore oil prospect in the US. Bishop said action on the bill was restricted to an up-or-down vote because only one amendment had been proposed, which was ruled nongermane.

Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.), said, "This bill is not so much about Alaska as it is about the coasts of California and Florida. It's just an attempt to get the camel's nose into the tent."

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) said environmental effects would be greater than proponents say. "The 2,000 acres would be extended to a much wider area by ancillary activities such as roads and airports," he said.

Opponents also questioned a provision in the bill that would split government revenue equally between Alaska and the federal government. "There's a whole lot of cooking the books in terms of revenues," said Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wisc.), noting that Alaska's legislature voted last year to demand 90% of ANWR's royalties.

Supporters responded that a federal court overturned that demand. Rep. Don Young (R-Alas.) said Alaskans overwhelmingly favor ANWR leasing. "We recognize that it's not our oil. It's a national resource that should be developed," he said.

Proponents also emphasized that if former President Bill Clinton hadn't vetoed ANWR leasing authorization when it passed the House and Senate in 1991, it might be producing oil now.

"If it had been authorized 15 years ago, we would have had production to help replace what was lost following Hurricane Katrina last year," said Rep. Gene Green (D-Tex.).

"This bill is an insurance policy against foreign oil price-gougers," said Rep. Robin Hayes (R-SC). "Exploration for and production of our domestic resources is pressure against overseas suppliers as we develop alternatives."

Opponents argued that more-aggressive conservation efforts would have done more. "If Congress had passed higher automotive fuel efficiency requirements 11 years ago, it would have saved more oil than ANWR would have produced," said Rep. Sherwood L. Boehlert (R-NY).

Environmental protection
Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo (R-Calif.), the bill's sponsor, said more than half of HR 5429 deals with environmental safeguards. Other supporters argued that domestic production, especially within a wildlife refuge on lands specifically set aside for energy use during the Carter administration, would be under tougher environmental standards than oil and gas development in many overseas locations.

He and 13 other House Republicans, including Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Barton (Tex.), disputed ANWR leasing opponents' arguments that leasing within the refuge would require too high an environmental price for a relatively insignificant amount of oil.

"In fact, ANWR could be the single largest conventional energy resource in America," they wrote in a "Dear Colleague" letter on May 24. "The mean estimate of recoverable oil from 2,000 acres in ANWR is 10.4 billion bbl."

Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), who called ANWR's coastal plain "a barren slope," said, "One of the reasons the environmental community opposes this so strongly is that it's their number one source of funds for political purposes."

Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.) protested that description. "We have a moral purpose to protect places like the ANWR coast for future generations. This desperate obsession with drilling off our coasts and in wildlife refuges has wasted too much of our time," she said.

Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) said supporters' claims that impacts would be confined to 2,000 acres are a hoax. Referring to the remainder of the area set aside in the refuge for possible future energy development, he said, "There are another 69,000 acres where they can build roads and airports. This is a choice between preserving or industrializing a pristine area."

Strong support
Rep. George Radanovich (R-Calif.) said the bill would create more than 1 million jobs in all 50 states and cited a survey showing 59% support for it. "The American people believe we're doing the right thing by considering this bill today," he said.

But Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) said reconsidering ANWR leasing took time from bigger energy issues. "We should be debating how to radically increase our alternative fuels consumption and energy efficiency," he said.

Pombo agreed that the bigger energy question involves more than ANWR. "Unfortunately, our energy policy the last 30 years has been to grow more dependent on foreign sources and discouraging domestic development," he said. "The other side is correct about our need for more alternative energy. But unless we're willing to create more energy from existing resources as well as alternatives, we won't make progress."

Following the bill's apparent passage by voice vote, Miller tried to recommit it to the Resources Committee with a proposed amendment that would bar issuing ANWR leases to any producer refusing to renegotiate deepwater royalties that were not covered by price thresholds.

Contact Nick Snow at [email protected].