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Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (12-12-05)

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Energy concerns raised during the past two Congresses have spurred action by both the administration and Congress towards creating a national energy policy. A controversial issue that has received a lot of press involves oil and natural gas exploration on the costal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), located in the northeast corner of Alaska. As with the general public, drilling in ANWR has aroused an array of opinions within the geoscience community. Some geoscientists are supportive of opening ANWR to reverse declining domestic exploration, while others oppose drilling due to the impact it might have on the wilderness. Still others believe drilling ANWR at some time in the future should remain a viable option, but exploration of known reserves on other federal lands should be a priority. Regardless of their views, geoscientists have played an important role in providing policy makers with data on the refuge and its oil potential.

Recent Action

Oil and gas leasing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was included in a budget reconciliation bill that passed the Senate 52-47 on November 3, 2005. In the House however, the Republican leadership faced steadfast opposition to their $50 billion in spending cuts from Democrats, and dissension from moderate Republicans who said they would oppose any measure that would open ANWR to drilling. Ultimately all references to ANWR were stripped from the bill and it narrowly passed by a vote of 217-215 on November 18. Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Barton (R-TX), who had previously said he would not vote for the bill unless it included drilling in ANWR, reluctantly cast the final vote in favor.

Drilling in ANWR will remain a hotly contested issue as the conference committee works to hammer out differences between the two bills. Two dozen Republican moderates in the House, whose votes are essential to the bill's passage, have written letters saying they will not support a conference report that includes drilling. On the other hand many senators, especially the Alaska delegation and Energy Committee Chairman Pete Domenici (R-NM), as well as Joe Barton and House Resources Committee Chair Richard Pombo (R-CA), say they will not vote for the reconciliation bill unless it includes drilling in ANWR. Drilling advocates are beginning to court moderate House Democrats, many of whom have supported ANWR development in the past, but thus far it does not appear that the unified Democratic opposition to the bill will be broken unless spending cuts to social programs are reduced. If no Democrats choose to support the measure it is likely that ANWR will not be included in this year's budget reconciliation, and advocates will have to wait until next year to try and open the refuge to drilling. (12/12/05)

Previous Action

Budget reconciliation language that would allow the government to collect revenue from oil leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has passed the Senate Energy and Natural Resources and Budget Committees, as well as the House Resources Committee. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved the measure 13-9, while the House Resources Committee voted in favor by a margin of 24-16. The filibuster-proof reconciliation bill states that opening the refuge for drilling is required to realize $2.4 billion in revenues demanded by this year's budget resolution. During the House committee mark-up, Representative Ed Markey (D-MA) offered a subsititution amendment that would have collected the necessary $2.4 billion from additional fees on oil and gas companies instead of through ANWR leases. The amendement was rejected.

The House version of the bill specifies the size of the area to be drilled and includes details on environmental restrictions and labor agreements, while the language that has passed the Senate does not include these details. Instead, senators from Alaska and Hawaii have proposed separate legislation with environmental and labor provisions for ANWR drilling. It is likely that the specific House language will be eliminated in conference to avoid a challenge under the "Byrd rule"- which prohibits extraneous measures in spending bills. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and other democrats plan to challenge the drilling language under the Byrd rule regardless, but the Senate ANWR package has been specifically designed to survive such a challenge. Environmentalists are putting pressure on key GOP lawmakers who oppose drilling but voted for the budget resolution in the spring by airing ads in their home states asking them to oppose the reconciliation bill. One of these lawmakers, Representative Wayne Gilchrest (R-MD) has already said that he will vote against the bill. (11/1/05)

On April 28, 2005, the House and Senate successfully passed the FY 2006 budget resolution, which contains language that could lead to oil and gas exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). The resolution, passed by a margin of three votes in the House and five votes in the Senate, instructs lawmakers in both houses to pass legislation as necessary to realize $2.4 billion in revenues over the next five years. While an explicit reference to ANWR was stripped from the final budget resolution, the revenue amount closely matches congressional estimates of ANWR leasing revenues, and members of congress, including Senate Budget Committee Chairman Judd Gregg (R-NH), have confirmed that opening ANWR is the ultimate intent of the resolution, according to Environment and Energy Daily. (4/29/05)

On April 13, 2005, the House Resources Committee approved their portion of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 including provisions to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil and gas exploration. Representative Ed Markey (D-MA) offered an amendment to strip the language from the bill, which was voted down 13 yeas to 30 nays. Environment and Energy Daily reported that this section may stall the bill completely because the Senate cannot pass a similar provision in their bill. Instead, Senators in favor of opening ANWR hope to do so through the budget process, an approach which depends on the House and Senate agreeing on a joint budget resolution for FY 2006.

During the mark-up, Markey criticized supporters of ANWR, the majority of whom are Republicans, for voting against amendments to the Energy bill offered in the Energy and Commerce Committee that would have improved fuel economy standards for vehicles and appliances and raised the national renewable portfolio standard. "The hypocrisy coefficient is at historic levels," he said, accusing ANWR supporters of being willing to impose upon the reserve and its inhabitants instead of "taking on the appliance industry." John Peterson (R-PA), who engaged Markey in the debate, said drilling in ANWR was preferable to "fueling the thugs of the world." Devin Nunes (R-CA), who visited ANWR earlier this year with a congressional delegation, said the area is nothing but an "ice-desert," adding, "environmentalists have lied to the American people for many years." Markey and Jay Inslee (D-WA) persisted that ANWR should be a last resort, and Americans should be putting their ingenuity to work, developing better technologies to improve fuel efficiency and conservation. (4/19/05)

For the first time since President Bush took office, the Senate acheived the simple majority vote needed to approve oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) through the budget process, a move that protects the plan from filibuster. On March 16, 2005 the Senate voted 51-49 against an amendment proposed by Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) that would have removed a provision to include ANWR revenues in the budget. The House passed a similar provision in their budget resolution earlier this month. If reconciled in the conference committee and signed by the President, the bill would instruct the House Resources Committee and Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to write legislation as necessary to realize $2.5 billion from ANWR lease sales over the next five years. While the vote was a decisive victory for those who support drilling in the refuge and a heavy blow to environmentalists, Congress must still overcome some hurdles before the provision would take effect. Most notably, Congress has failed in recent years to acheive a joint budget resolution, and disagreements over several other funding issues within next year's tight budget, such as cuts to Medicaid, promise to challenge the process once again.

Click here to view the final votes. Additional coverage can be found in The Washington Post, E&E Daily (subscription required), New York Times, and Chicago Sun Times. (3/17/05)


Congress created the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in 1980 through the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. ANWR extends over 19 million acres in the state's northeast corner, making it the second-largest refuge in the United States. Although drilling has never been allowed in the refuge, in section 1002 of the Act, Congress left open the possibility of drilling in 1.5 million acres of the northern coastal plain (commonly referred to as the 1002 area) between the Brooks Range and the Beaufort Sea. The 1002 area is used as breeding and migratory habitat for more than 200 species, including muskox, swans, snow geese, and caribou.

The Alaska delegation has been seeking to open ANWR for exploration ever since it was created. Legislation to do so passed Congress in 1995 as part of an omnibus budget reconciliation bill (making changes in the federal government's mandatory spending obligations and revenues), but the bill was vetoed by President Clinton in part due to his opposition to the ANWR provision. Former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, while opposing exploration in ANWR, did approve drilling in Alaska's National Petroleum Reserve (NPR-A) another large parcel of the Arctic coastal plain located in the state's northwest corner (see AGI's Update on NPR-A for additional information). Babbitt's move was widely viewed as an effort to relieve pressure on ANWR. Additional attempts to add last minute provisions to appropriations bills were made throughout the Clinton Administration, but were all later retracted or vetoed.

While there was talk last Congress of using a budget reconciliation bill to obtain approval for exploration and development in ANWR, most of the action focused on incorporating ANWR into efforts aimed at creating comprehensive energy legislation. ANWR was often sighted as a way to increase energy security by decreasing the country's reliance on foreign oil. Others argue that conservation strategies such as raising fuel economy standards and moving towards the use of renewable energy sources would accomplish the same goal.

Yet, once again the Energy Bill languished in the 108th congress largely due to resistance over the proposed oil and gas drilling in ANWR. On March 19, 2003, the Senate passed an amendment that removes reconciliation instructions to open ANWR for drilling from its fiscal year 2004 budget resolution. The amendment -- offered by Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Lincoln Chafee (R-RI), Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), and Olympia Snowe (R-ME) -- passed by a 52-48 margin, with eight Republicans voting against drilling and five Democrats supporting drilling.

With President Bush's reelection and the increased Republican majorities in the House and Senate, drilling in ANWR will certainly come up again in the 109th congress. While Republicans believe that they now have enough votes to pass comprehensive energy legislation with the ANWR provision, their 55-45 majority in the Senate means Democrats may still employ the filibuster in order to stall its passage. Greenwire reports that, "the Senate could get a simple majority for opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas exploration, though a filibuster-proof majority of 60 still is a stretch. For that reason, advocates are more likely to try to attach the ANWR provisions to the budget reconciliation measure next year -- a gambit they tried unsuccessfully in 2003, when the GOP held a one-vote majority."

Additional information on proposed energy policy legislation is available at the AGI's Energy Policy Overview. Several Congressional Research Service reports available at the National Library for the Environment provide a historical overview of the ANWR debate and how it is related to current energy legislation. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) released a report in 1998 that estimated the potential oil reserves in ANWR as a part of the National Oil and Gas Assessment. This was followed in 2000 by an Energy Information Administration (EIA) report containing projections of future daily production rates from ANWR based on the 1998 USGS assessment. In 2002, at the request of the Interior Department's leadership, the USGS issued the Arctic Refuge Coastal Plain Terrestrial Wildlife Research Summaries and an additional supplemental report on possible ANWR drilling impacts to Porcupine caribou, musk oxen, snow geese and polar bears. The American Association of Petroleum Geologists has developed a position statement supporting exploration in ANWR.

Sources: Department of Energy, Department of the Interior, E&E Daily, Greenwire, hearing documents, Library of Congress, The New York Times, U.S. Geological Survey, White House, and Washington Post.

Contributed by David Millar 2004 AGI/AAPG Fall Semster Intern, Katie Ackerly, 2005 AGI/AAPG Spring Intern, and Peter Douglas, 2005 AGI/AAPG Fall Intern.

Background section includes material from AGI's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Update for the 108th Congress.

Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Government Affairs Program.

Last updated on December 12, 2005.

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