President Donald Trump “didn’t really care” about opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil drilling until a friend of his in the industry asked him to, he said during a speech Thursday.
Speaking to Republicans at the party’s annual retreat in West Virginia, Trump said he was convinced to put a provision in his tax bill that would open up part of the wildlife refuge to oil and gas companies after one phone call with a friend “who’s in that world and in that business.”
Recounting the phone call, Trump told lawmakers: “He said, Ronald Reagan, and every president, has wanted to get ANWR approved. And after that, I said, oh, make sure that’s in the bill. It was amazing how that had an impact, that had a very big impact on me… I really didn’t care about it and then when I heard that everybody wanted it, for 40 years they’d been trying to get it approved, I said make sure you don’t lose ANWR.”
The proposal to open up drilling in the Arctic refuge has faced overwhelming public opposition over the years. Alaska’s coastal plain, 1.5 million acres of protected land known as Area 1002, is the primary breeding ground for a unique herd of 195,000 porcupine caribou — which are, in turn, a staple for the indigenous Gwitchin tribe, who say their way of life would be irreparably changed if oil and gas interests are able to open the area to development.
For nearly a decade, however, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) has been introducing bills to open up ANWR to the oil and gas industry. Murkowski is now the head of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. And with the Trump administration making increased fossil fuel production a top priority, the opportunity finally came to jam the proposal into in the Republican tax bill.
The move has not received support from all Republicans, however. In December, 12 Republican representatives sent a letter to Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) expressing their concerns about opening up oil and gas exploration in a refuge that “stands as a symbol of our nation’s strong and enduring national legacy.”