Another ANWR End-Run

For years, conservatives have tried to ram their Arctic National Wildlife Refuge drilling plans through Congress using budget resolutions, which can’t be filibustered, by simply “assuming” ANWR drilling revenues in the federal budget (more about the process here). For years, this underhanded, back-door approach has been flatly rejected. And according to Reuters, this year seems no different:

Opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil drilling would raise an initial $2.4 billion in leasing fees, half of which would be shared with the state of Alaska, the Bush administration said in proposed fiscal 2006 budget documents released on Monday.

The White House approach is riddled with problems.

For one, if last year’s ANWR budget item is any indication, the administration’s numbers are thoroughly misleading. Assuming 600,000 acres of ANWR land is leased (the high-end estimate from last year), the lease rate according to the White House budget would be $4,000/acre ($4,000 per acre = $2.4 billion/600,000 acres). Where does that number come from? Good question. Of the 28 lease sales on the North Slope and in near-shore waters in the past 13 years, the average lease per acre is roughly $60 — more than a tad shy of $4,000. It’s also presumptuous for the White House to assume the federal government would receive half of the leasing fee revenues — under current law, Alaska receives 90 percent of all such royalties.


Another more fundamental problem: if conservatives think the American people support drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, they should offer a bill sanctioning oil drilling on its own, and not try to sneak it through under the radar.

Unfortunately, this year’s ANWR budget battle is different from past years’ in one critical respect — conservatives may actually have enough votes to pull it off.