ANWR takes tiny step down rocky Senate road


The effort to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling made a baby step forward in the Senate today, with the debut of a Republican budget plan in a committee. The plan is a non-binding resolution but it contains the seeds of what could become a law that allows oil development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Listen now

You know how members of Congress sometimes try to pass legislation by attaching it to a fast-moving bill everyone loves? That’s not the case here. ANWR is controversial, and the budget plan it’s hitching a ride on isn’t entirely popular, either.

“The budget we’re dealing with today is in my view the most unfair and destructive budget in the modern history of our country,” Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt, said.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wa., said the plan would “blast a hole in our budget, increase the deficit, blow up the debt and put Social Security, and Medicare and Medicaid and education, investments in health care and a lot of other priorities at risk.”

They were extrapolating. The budget plan isn’t that specific in what it would cut. The real point of using this process is to pass the proposed Republican tax cuts with just 50 votes. But even a few Republicans sound unsure they can support the tax plan.

“Unless it reduces deficits … and does not add to deficits, with reasonable and responsible growth models, and unless we can make it permanent,” Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said, “I don’t have any interest in it.”

Opening ANWR was hardly discussed at the Budget Committee hearing, although Sen. Murray referred to it as a “bizarre” thing to include in the budget. (Actually, the budget plan doesn’t mention the refuge by name, but it opens the door to including ANWR legislation later, in the process known as “budget reconciliation.”)

The House is likely to pass its version of the budget plan Thursday, and it includes a similar ANWR measure.

“It is necessary for this nation,” Alaska Congressman Don Young said in debate on the House floor Wednesday. “It’s necessary, very frankly, for the good of this Congress. With $20 trillion in debt, I’ve yet to hear anything that’s going to create new wealth.”

Sen. Lisa Murkowski bucked her party on health care last month, in part because Republicans tried to fast-track that as part of a budget reconciliation bill. But she’s been trying to open ANWR her whole Senate career. If ANWR is married to the tax cuts, she’d have a massive reason to vote for them.

At the same time, Arctic Refuge drilling could repel other moderate Republican senators. Three Republican “no” votes would kill the bill. That is, unless the sponsors can win over some Senate Democrats, and most of them oppose drilling in the refuge.

Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent at Alaska Public Media. Reach her at Read more about Liz here.

Previous articleWalker doubles down on opposing Pebble Mine
Next articleAlaska News Nightly: Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017