Senators gear up to fight oil’s ‘poison pill’ in the budget

Republican lawmakers have said they will open the reserve to raise revenue for the federal budget.

Sen. Ed. Markey (D-MA) speaks against drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge. CREDIT: Courtesy the Office of Senator Ed Markey

Democratic Senators are vowing to keep drilling the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge out of the upcoming federal budget, as Republican lawmakers in both chambers have indicated they want to use revenue from drilling in the refuge to balance their budget proposals.

They are proposing to open Area 1002 of the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge — a 1.5 million-acre parcel that was not permanently protected in the 1980s, when Congress established the refuge. The sole mating ground for the porcupine caribou, Area 1002 is considered a pristine wilderness.

“We’re not going to allow it to be opened,” Sen. Ed. Markey (D-MA) said Tuesday at a press conference.

Opening the refuge is not expected to bring in much revenue, in the context of the $4-trillion overall budget. Recent analysis of the White House budget from the Congressional Budget Office found that leasing rights could raise $3 billion between now and 2027 — and that funding would be split between the federal and state coffers. Currently, Alaska receives 90 percent of leasing revenues on oil in the state, although lawmakers have suggested that a 50-50 split, similar to the Gulf states, would be used if the refuge were opened. That leaves just $1.6 billion over 10 years.

Drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge has long been a goal of Alaska Republicans, including Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who introduces a bill to open the area nearly every year. An appropriations bill is one of the few ways they could successfully get it through, since drilling there is unpopular with the public and at least two Republican senators, John McCain (AZ) and Susan Collins (ME), have opposed it in the past.

“The Republican budget is all about massive handouts to the 1 percent and huge corporations, while doing nothing for working- and middle-class Americans,” Markey said, noting the Republican push for corporate and high-income tax cuts and simultaneous reductions to health coverage. “If that weren’t bad enough, tucked inside the Republican budget is a poison pill, a massive corporate handout, a giveaway of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to Big Oil,” Markey said.

Markey noted that the United States is currently an oil exporter, so development of the refuge would benefit oil companies who want to sell overseas.

League of Conservation Voters president Gene Karpinski also drew the connection between the drilling proposal and oil interest during Tuesday’s press conference outside the Capitol. “Let’s be clear what is going on here,” Karpinski said. “They are trying to do the bidding of Big Oil. Doing the bidding of Big Oil at the expense of our environment, our health, and the pocketbooks of hardworking families across this country. This makes no sense. It must stop.”

Sen. Jeff Merkey (D-OR) compared drilling in Alaska to watching a drug addict. “There is something cynical and sad about this particular… provision,” he said. “Let’s turn to more fossil fuels in the very state that is being most impacted already by carbon pollution and global warming.”

“We together will not be party to this addiction,” he said.

The Trump administration has made no secret of the fact that it wants to induce more drilling for oil and natural gas. President Donald Trump denies that the climate is changing — much less that it is caused primarily by humans, which is the conclusion of the most recent and best scientific analysis. Instead, he has stacked the Department of the Interior with pro-drilling appointees.

For these reasons, Markey said it was no surprise that the refuge is being targeting now. “To the extent to which this is the Big Oil administration — from Rick Perry to Zinke to Pruitt to Tillerson, it’s the Big Oil all-star team — and the Arctic Refuge has always had a bulls-eye on it, so it’s not any surprise that they are coming for it, even as we have now reached the point where we are exporting oil,” Markey said.