US Senate panel adopts Murkowski plan to lease ANWR to meet budget

The US Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee adopted Chair Lisa Murkowski’s proposal to authorize oil and gas leasing on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge’s Coastal Plain for federal budget reconciliation purposes. The final 13-10 vote on Nov. 15 ran along party lines, with Republicans voting aye and Democrats, with Independents Bernie Sanders and Angus S. King Jr., voting no.

The US Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee adopted Chair Lisa Murkowski’s (R-Alas.) proposal to authorize oil and gas leasing on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge’s Coastal Plain for federal budget reconciliation purposes. The final 13-10 vote on Nov. 15 ran along party lines, with Republicans voting aye and Democrats, with Independents Bernie Sanders (Vt.) and Angus S. King Jr. (Me.), voting no.

The proposal would limit development to 2,000 acres within the 1.5-million-acre Coastal Plain, which itself is 8% of ANWR’s 19.3 million acres, Murkowski said. “That 1.5 million acres was set aside specifically under [the 1980 Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act] for consideration for oil and gas exploration. It is separate from any wilderness. It is separate from the refuge itself,” she said.

Murkowski added that the proposal would not waive any requirements under the National Environmental Policy Act and does not limit consultations with Alaska Natives. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the legislation would raise $1.092 billion over 10 years, enough to meet the $1-billion goal H.C. Res. 71 established for the committee, although much of revenue would occur after the instruction’s 10-year window passed, she said.

Democrats reiterated their protests that putting ANWR leasing within a measure to help meet a Fiscal 2018 budget goal broke with regular Senate procedures. Their biggest objection was that the proposal would establish oil and gas development as the main management purpose on the Coastal Plain, a dramatic departure from its present oversight as part of the larger wildlife refuge.

“What we’re doing here today is just creating another avenue, by sleight of hand, to change the purpose of the refuge. But in doing so, you are doing great damage to ANWR’s diversity,” Ranking Minority Member Maria E. Cantwell (D-Wash.) said. “This legislation would impose a process similar to [the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska], which was established for an entirely different purpose. Basically, we’re trying to add oil development to ANWR’s purpose.”

Other Democrats warned that administering ANWR’s Coastal Plain in a manner similar to NPR-A would switch federal oversight from the US Fish & Wildlife Service and its species protection emphasis to the US Bureau of Land Management, which has a multiple-use mandate. “This isn’t BLM land. It’s a wildlife refuge. The question is whether wildlife should continue to come first,” said Martin Heinrich (NM).

Their proposed amendments included requiring any company leasing on the Coastal Plain to not have been fined for environmental damage elsewhere in the country in the last 10 years, prohibiting oil and gas activity which potentially threatens the porcupine caribou’s habitat, not allowing companies holding undeveloped leases elsewhere in Alaska to lease on the Coastal Plain, and eliminating favorable federal tax provisions for oil and gas producers. None were adopted.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

More in General Interest