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Alaska delegation criticizes House bill seeking to close Arctic refuge to drilling

  • Author: Alex DeMarban
  • Updated: September 12, 2019
  • Published September 11, 2019

UPDATE 8 a.m. Thursday:

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Democratic-controlled House on Thursday approved a measure to reinstate a decades-long ban on oil and gas drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The 225-193 vote was a largely symbolic move aimed at reversing a plan by President Donald Trump to drill in the refuge.

Original story:

Alaska’s congressional delegation on Wednesday pushed back against a measure in the House of Representatives, expected to see a vote on Thursday, that seeks to prevent drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

“As the state’s congressional delegation, we are unified in strong opposition and believe passage would be a reckless strategic mistake,” Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, and Rep. Don Young, said in an editorial that appeared in the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday.

The debate over drilling in the refuge has intensified as the Bureau of Land Management moves closer to holding a lease sale in the coming months, a step approved by the Republican-led Congress in 2017.

Congress is expected to vote Thursday on the measure, introduced by Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif.

Alaska’s delegation said in the editorial that the bill would restrict America’s future energy supply. They said the “repeal effort” ignores environmental protections, economic benefits, and the majority of Alaskans who support drilling in the 1.6-million-acre coastal plain, representing 8 percent of the refuge.

“We believe, in fairness to Alaskans, that the leasing program should proceed responsibly, with Congress and the Trump administration ensuring that lands and wildlife are cared for,” the delegation wrote. “All of us are working to put the proper guidelines in place. Yet some in Congress still remain eager to repeal the provision, based on misperceptions about what is at stake and what most Alaskans want.”

“Despite ceaseless rhetoric about a Green New Deal, the reality is that our nation and the world are demanding the resources that will come from the 1002 Area. If Alaska doesn’t supply them, another country will,” they wrote.

Members of the Gwich’in Steering Committee, a voice for several Gwich’in communities in Alaska and Canada that oppose drilling in the refuge, on Wednesday expressed support for a separate measure introduced by Democrats in the Senate that would designate the refuge a wilderness, stopping oil and gas exploration. The Gwich’in people live outside the refuge but have hunted caribou in the refuge for eons.

“We hope that in the near future we will achieve permanent protection,” said Jody Potts, in a statement from the group. "We will not compromise when it comes to protecting our way of life.”

Neither bill is expected to pass the Republican-led Senate.