Senate Energy Committee approves amendment to open ANWR

North Slope pipeline. (Photo by Joshua Stearns/Flickr Creative Commons)

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved a budget amendment Wednesday morning to allow oil and gas development in the 1002 region of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The committee, which is chaired by Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, approved the amendment on a 13-10 vote. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., broke with fellow Democrats to support the amendment, which will be part of the controversial tax bill currently being considered by the U.S. Senate.

Murkowski batted away Democrat-fielded criticism of the plan, saying Alaska will safely and responsibly develop the section of ANWR. The amendment specifically directs the Interior Department to open lease sales for 800,000 acres of land in ANWR within the next decade.

“If we move forward with development, we will do it right. We will take care of our wildlife, our lands and our people,” she said during the hearing. “Alaskans will do this the right way. We will protect our environment while providing substantial economic benefits all across America.”

The committee heard from Alaskans, including Gov. Bill Walker, the congressional delegation and Alaska Native leaders, two weeks ago. The delegation was generally in favor of development, but there were some, like Sam Alexander of Fort Yukon and Fairbanks, who opposed opening the area because of its potential impact on the caribou populations.

A lot less than promised

Under the amendment approved by the committee, Alaska would receive half of the estimated $2.2 billion that the Congressional Budget Office estimates will be raised by the lease sale. It’s far less than some Alaskans would like to see.

Alaska Public Media has a story about ongoing efforts to get the federal government to live up to a promise that 90 percent of the government proceeds from development of Alaska’s federal lands go to the state. The story notes, however, that such a big split likely wouldn’t passed the Senate at large, hence a 50-50 split.

Gov. Bill Walker told APM, “50 percent of something is better than 90 percent of nothing.”

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