House Leadership Strips Arctic Drilling From Budget Bill

WASHINGTON, DC, November 10, 2005 (ENS) - House Republican leaders decided late last night to drop authorization for oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from a $54 billion deficit reduction bill. The policy reversal was prompted by moderate Republican House members who told the leadership in a letter that the refuge is of greater benefit to the nation if it remains pristine than if it is opened to oil and gas exploration.

“There will be no drilling in ANWR,” said New Hampshire Republican Congressman Charles Bass who authored the letter. “I conveyed the moderate Republicans’ concern with this provision to the leadership, that message was heard, and this damaging language has been stripped from the bill.”

Bass

Congressman Charles Bass of New Hampshire is proud of his reputation as a conservationist. (Photo courtesy Office of the Congressman)
As reported out of the House Budget Committee, language included in the Deficit Reduction Act would have allowed part of this refuge to be leased out to oil and gasoline companies to drill for oil and natural gas.

Bass’ letter was signed by 25 like-minded moderate Republican members of Congress after he began circulating it through the House last Friday.

Bass then presented this letter to Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert of Illinois, Majority Leader Roy Blunt of Missouri, and Committee on Rules Chairman David Dreier at last night’s weekly leadership meeting. His effort resulted in an agreement with the Republican leadership to remove the provision to permit oil and gas leasing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) from the bill.

“The critical value of this Refuge to the arctic and sub-arctic wildlife is undeniable,” wrote Bass in the letter. “Rather then reversing decades of protection for this publicly held land, focusing greater attention on renewable energy sources, alternate fuels, and more efficient systems and appliances would yield more net energy savings than could come from ANWR and would have a higher benefit on the nation’s long-term economic leadership and security.”

Environmentalists have lobbied long and hard against opening the refuge to drilling, and they see the development as a major victory. William Meadows, president of the Wilderness Society said, "Ultimately, Congress could not ignore the millions of Americans who called and wrote letters, and the thousands who came to Washington to tell their elected officials that our greatest wildlife refuge should not be sacrificed for oil company profits."

refuge

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge shelters hundreds of wildlife species and millions of migratory birds. (Photo courtesy USFWS)
"Today’s victory is also a tribute to the courage of the Representatives who have resisted the drilling lobby’s ploy to sneak Arctic Refuge drilling into the budget bill," Meadows said.

John Adams, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) called the development "a stunning setback for President [George W.] Bush, for congressional leaders and for the oil lobby - all of whom vowed that 2005 would be the year they finally pried the Arctic Refuge out of the clenched hands of the American people."

"It is a huge - and I mean HUGE - victory for all of us in the environmental community," said Adams. "Petition by petition, phone call by phone call, contribution by contribution, you helped us turn the tide in one of the toughest uphill political battles of the past decade."

Lying between the Brooks Mountain Range and the Beaufort Sea in northeastern Alaska, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge's coastal plain is inhabited by close to 200 wildlife species, including polar and grizzly bears and musk oxen.

Animals of the refuge include the 130,000 member Porcupine caribou herd, 180 species of birds from four continents, wolves, wolverines, foxes, and over 40 species of coastal and freshwater fish.

Some political maneuvering is expected, and the ANWR leasing language might still reappear during the House-Senate conference process. The conference committee includes Republican Senators Ted Stevens of Alaska and Pete Domenici of New Mexico, who are expected to insist on including the Arctic drilling language.

bear

A polar bear on the icy waters bordering the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (Photo courtesy The Wilderness Society)
REP America, the national grassroots organization of Republicans for environmental protection, today welcomed the House Rules Committee's removal of Arctic National Wildlife Refuge drilling authorization from the budget reconciliation bill and praised Republicans who forced leadership to do the right thing.

"This demonstrates that our party's environmentally responsible lawmakers can make a big difference when they stand together," said David Jenkins, government affairs director of REP America. "We are particularly pleased that many of them have already warned leadership against trying to put Arctic drilling back into the legislation in conference with the Senate."

REP America opposes drilling in the Arctic Refuge because it is "a dead-end energy strategy that will destroy a spectacular piece of America's natural heritage and perpetuate our country's dangerous dependence on oil."

"This is not only good news for those who care about the Arctic Refuge and who want a forward-thinking energy strategy, but it is good news for the Republican Party," Jenkins said. "It is political suicide for congressional leaders to force members to vote for legislation that is unpopular in their districts."

ANWR

A satellite view of the Arctic National Wildlife on the northeast Alaska coast (Photo courtesy NASA)
In exchange for removing the Arctic drilling, however, the moderate Republicans had to promise their votes so that the Deficit Reduction Act will pass. Many moderates of both parties are unhappy with other parts of this bill, which will allow states to impose new costs of Medicaid recipients, cut funds for student loans and child support enforcement, cut back farm supports and limit access to food stamps.

In addition, the Deficit Reduction Act contains language that environmentalists say could hurt other public lands.

"As written, this bill would still have disastrous consequences for our public lands," said Meadows of the Wilderness Society. "The reconciliation bill still contains a mining provision that could lead to the cut-rate sale of millions of acres of existing and future 'mining claims' on public lands, including our national forests and even national parks."

And, he said, "many Americans remain deeply concerned about the hardship this bill could impose on the most vulnerable people in our country."

"The battle for the Arctic Refuge is not over," Meadows said. "In the coming weeks and months, a growing coalition of conservation-minded Americans will continue to send a single message to Washington: Protect our Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, every step of the way."

Congressman Bass, the co-chair of the House Tuesday Group, an organization composed of moderate Republicans, says that as lawmakers treat ANWR, so they are likely to treat other protected public lands.

"If we reverse the protection for ANWR," said Bass, "then the protection of the White Mountains in New Hampshire, Yellowstone National Park, the Grand Canyon, and all other public spaces becomes meaningless."