Senate poised to sell Arctic National Wildlife Refuge oil leases

Senate poised to sell Arctic National Wildlife Refuge oil leases

By TMN Interns   
Environmentalists with the Alaska Wilderness League donning caribou costumes to protest the provision in the Republican tax bill that will sell oil leases for Arctic drilling. Senator Ed Markey (D-Mass.) called this provision a "poison pill" and called it a "polar giveaway." (Anthony Jackson/TMN Intern)

By Anthony Jackson

WASHINGTON – Reconciliation is not drilling just tax reform through the Senate, attached are drilling leases for Big Oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

“When the Republicans wrote this bill, they relied on environmental shortcuts to justify giving away part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge,” Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) said in front of the Capitol on Thursday.

“They need a reality check,” he said, standing with Senate Democrats and environmentalists donning polar bear and caribou costumes.

“There isn’t enough demand for oil from the Arctic Refuge; it can’t raise the $1 billion the Republicans need to pay for tax cuts for corporations.”

In April, President Donald Trump lifted Obama-era restrictions from Arctic offshore drilling, a move for which Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) has been vying.

She helped pass the drilling provision as chairwoman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee by a party-line vote 12-11 in early November.

Murkowski said in a statement that “50 percent of the revenue derived from the program” will go to Alaska and the remainder to the federal Treasury. She also has said the ANRW contains “prolific resources” that would benefit Alaska’s economy and reduce the deficit.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, this provision would provide at least $1 billion over the next decade. But the CBO found that the proposed $1.5 trillion tax cut would cut mandatory spending programs and cost Alaska an estimated $15 million annually in lost energy royalty payments.

Senate Democrats held a similar news conference in October; Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) called the provision a “poison pill” and labeled the newly introduced legislation a “Big Oil polar pay-out.”

Charlene Fisher, executive director of the Athabasca Tribal Council, told reporters that preservation of the ANWR is critical to the region’s Gwich’in tribes, who rely on the land for subsistence.

“The stewardship that we … look to take care of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge or the sacred place where life begins is not only for us, for the caribou herd, for the sustainability of the herd, but for future generations of Gwich’in and Americans,” she told TMN.

The Senate is expected to vote on the tax plan Thursday.

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