Legislation to open part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil and gas exploration advanced out of a Senate committee on Wednesday, largely along party lines.
West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat, joined with GOP lawmakers to pass ANWR legislation in a 13-10 vote. Manchin was the only Democrat to join Republicans in passing the bill.
The $1.1 billion budget reconciliation bill now heads to the full Senate for a vote, though it’s unclear when that vote will happen. The GOP is the closest it’s been in years to opening ANWR’s “1002 area” to drilling.
Alaska GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski is pushing hard to open the 1002 area, saying it would help bring much needed economic activity to Alaska communities and be done in a way that protects the environment.
Murkowski introduced legislation in early November to lease the 1002 area. Her bill requires the Interior Department to hold at least two ANWR lease sales in the next 10 years.
Congress set aside the 1.5 million acre 1002 area aside for energy development. The area is estimated to hold 8 billion barrels of oil.
Democrats have largely opposed opening the “1002 area” to drilling, arguing oil and gas exploration could damage a fragile ecosystem and harm the porcupine caribou that calve there.
“I am amazed that people want to throw away such an unbelievable ecological jewel of our planet. I don’t even just mean our nation, I mean our planet,” Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell said during a Thursday hearing.
“We think that it’s a critical habitat that should be protected and that it is not consistent with oil and gas development,” Cantwell said.
Democrats tried to keep language opening ANWR to drilling out of the Senate budget resolution, but that amendment was voted down 52-48 in late October.
Environmentalists and some Alaskan tribesmen oppose opening ANWR, but tribes actually living in the 1002 area support drilling.
Kaktovik village tribal administrator Matthew Rexford told Congress in a recent hearing that policies keeping ANWR oil and gas locked up turned his tribe into “conservation refugees.”
“We do not approve of efforts to turn our homeland into one giant national park, which literally guarantees us a fate with no economy, no jobs, reduced subsistence and no hope for the future of our people,” said Rexford, whose tribe lives in the “1002 area.”
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