U.S. Senate One Step Closer to Opening Fragile Arctic Wildlife Refuge

A U.S. Senate Committee announced on Wednesday that would open up part of Alaska to oil and gas development.

Ignoring the pleas of scientists, environmentalists and a bipartisan group of former Interior Department officials, the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources advanced legislation on Wednesday that would open up part of Alaska to oil and gas development.

The move would come with unclear economic benefits, and opponents warn it could destroy Alaska’s pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The proposal would “turn [the refuge] into a petroleum reserve,” Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), the committee’s ranking member, said Wednesday during a hearing.

The bill, which committee chair Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) introduced last week, would require that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke approve at least two lease sales for drilling — each no less than 400,000 acres — in the 1.5 million-acre coastal plain area of ANWR. This region in northeast Alaska, also known as the 1002 Area, has been the subject of a decades-long battle, with many failed attempts to allow for energy development.

In her opening statement, Murkowski swung back at claims that introducing the bill as part of Congress’ 2018 budget plan circumvented the normal legislative process.

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