Alaska's Republican contingent in the Senate urged their colleagues to reject an amendment to a budget resolution introduced by Democrats that would block potentially opening a portion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to energy development.
Lawmakers spent much of Thursday on the Senate floor debating House Concurrent Resolution 71, which would establish the federal budget for fiscal year (FY) 2018 and set budgetary levels for FY2019 through FY2027. In its current form, the resolution calls for the energy committees in both houses of Congress to find ways to save at least $1 billion over the next decade.
Republicans want to use the budget reconciliation process to expedite tax reform through Congress and to open to energy development the 1.5-million acre coastal plain of the ANWR, a region also known as the 1002 Area.
But on Wednesday evening, Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, introduced an amendment that would strike the requirement that the energy committees save $1 billion -- in effect blocking the idea of opening up the 1002 Area to development.
A vote was expected Thursday evening.
"More than 10 years ago, we fought this battle, and as you can see then, it was the same play they went through the budget process and tried to get it into a budget bill, and when they failed, they then tried to sneak it into the defense bill," Cantwell said Tuesday. "Now, it tells you something that this idea does not stand on its own. It tells you that every time it has to be paired with something else as almost a sneak attack you have to vote for this because of these other issues.
"When are they going to stop holding us all hostages to vote for ANWR being opened? When in reality, oil companies today aren't interested in even drilling there at this price."
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), who chairs the Senate energy committee, urged her colleagues to reject Cantwell's amendment.
"Give us a chance to consider this instruction within our committee," Murkowski said Thursday. "We'll have an opportunity for hearings. We'll be able to put these options out on the table, understand more fully how we can do more when it comes to energy production in this country. Let the Energy Committee do its part in helping here. Let's not pull the plug even before we get going.
"The energy committee wanted to see this instruction in the budget resolution. I've got every confidence we can meet it."
Earlier Thursday, Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK) said the idea of saving $1 billion shouldn't be a controversial one and deserves bipartisan support. "What could be wrong with more energy production, particularly in a state like mine where the standards are the highest in the world and the technology is the most advanced in the world?" he asked.
Sullivan also railed against Democrats for using "stale talking points" that haven't been updated for decades and don't "reflect what's really been happening in the country in terms of technological advances in environmental standards [and] the American energy renaissance."
"I don't need senators coming down from places like Massachusetts, Oregon, Washington, Vermont and Rhode Island talking about Alaska's environment," he said in a veiled swipe at Cantwell. "I care way more than any of you. And with all due respect, know a heck of a lot more about it than any of you."
According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the portions of the 1002 Area controlled by the federal government hold an estimated 7.7 billion bbl of technically recoverable oil. The USGS estimate climbs to 10.4 billion bbl with the inclusion of Native lands and adjacent state-controlled water areas within a three-mile offshore boundary.