Congressional Democrats use Republicans’ strategy in budget bill to take over ANWR leases

Almost exactly four years after Republicans used a budget bill to secure the rental of oil and gas in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge through Congress with the lowest margin, Democrats are turning the tables.

When House Democrats passed the $ 1.75 trillion Build Back Better bill on November 19 without any Republican backing, they set the stage for what looks to be a mirror image of drilling-centric political melodrama. tanker at ANWR which took place in late 2017.

Just as the comprehensive tax cuts and jobs law signed by former President Donald Trump had virtually no Democratic backing, the Build Back Better budget reconciliation bill was castigated by Republicans as a package. unnecessary expenses. Many Democrats have dubbed it the “human infrastructure” bill, building on the much more bipartisan $ 1.2 trillion law on infrastructure investment and jobs than President Joe Biden enacted earlier this month.

The 2017 tax law and the reconciliation bill to be debated in the Senate contain the apparently inadequate provisions of the ANWR to avoid the 60 Senate vote threshold and obstruction, which would almost certainly have killed the 2017 rider rendering obligatory the sale of leases and would likely have done the same today in Democrat parlance to repeal it, with both parties holding small majorities at the same time.

Specifically, the Republicans, largely led by Senator Lisa Murkowski, who then chaired the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, in 2017 justified the inclusion of the sale of the ANWR lease in the budget bill on the grounds that sales would generate more than $ 1.1 billion over 10 years for the treasury, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office.

CBO analysts wrote in a report on the Build Back Better Act that federal leasing provisions are too broad to generate budget estimates.

Republicans have long sought to launch oil drilling in the region, citing the economic and national security advantage of the approximately 10.4 billion barrels of oil and 8.6 trillion cubic feet of natural gas contained in the field, according to an analysis by the US Geological Survey.

Alaska’s all-Republican congressional delegation hailed the passage of ANWR’s lease sale legislation – via 51 Republican votes in the Senate – as a historic step towards the state’s economic prosperity, while National Democrats and local environmental organizations ridiculed it as a purely political movement that would only exacerbate climate change.

But by using the budget process to pass the still controversial ANWR provision, Republicans put Democrats in place to repeal it in the same way.

This time the narratives have shifted, and with Vice President Kamala Harris acting as the deciding vote in an otherwise 50-50 Senate, so have the political circumstances.

The first lease sale organized by officials at the Bureau of Land Management shortly before Biden took office in January brought in $ 14.4 million in winning bids, most of which came from Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, or AIDEA. Half of the rental revenue also went to the state of Alaska, by language in the 2017 tax bill.

Members of the Alaska delegation and other proponents of the ANWR oil leasing largely blamed the political standoff over the issue for deterring bidders.

Industry sources, however, generally say the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska across the North Slope is more attractive to businesses. Policy aside, it is considered more geologically prospective and, above all, closer to existing infrastructure.

The ANWR language in the Build Back Better Act is simple; it would repeal the rental program provision of the 2017 tax bill and refund all lease payments to tenants within 30 days of signing.

By early November, AIDEA had spent just over $ 12.8 million on its leases, an amount that includes initial offers, the first year of rent and administrative costs, according to spokesperson Colleen Bryan.

Murkowski said in a statement prepared after the House vote on the Build Back Better law that the Democrats’ resource provisions are among the most partisan in the entire 2,400-page bill and will ultimately only benefit ‘to Russia, China and the OPEC countries.

“Amid high energy prices and rising inflation, responsible Alaska home (energy) production, including potential area 1002 is needed more than ever. Despite this, House Democrats and the Biden administration are trying to throw it all away through an illegal take that would fundamentally change the way American leases have been administered for decades, ”Murkowski said. “We will do our utmost to remove the ANWR – and other – provision of the Reconciliation Bill as it relates to the Senate.”

The ANWR Coastal Plain is regularly referred to as “Area 1002,” a reference to the section of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, 1980, or ANILCA, that describes it. ANILCA has established many Federal Designated Areas in Alaska, including the ANWR.

Section 1002 of the comprehensive legislation called for initial assessments of wildlife and hydrocarbons and outlines subsequent stages in oil and gas exploration and development should Congress approve it.

Zack Brown, spokesman for Representative Don Young, wrote in an email after the House vote that in the “worst case scenario” the state of Alaska could sue the administration in an attempt to maintain existing leases.

Murkowski also urged leaders of AIDEA to prosecute federal officials ahead of the House vote. More generally, she expressed the belief that some Democrats’ own reluctance towards parts of the massive spending bill could ultimately sink it.

AIDEA has in fact already sued Home Office executives and Biden on November 4 for using an executive order on the day they took office to suspend the lease sale program they had been instructed by Congress to. enforce.

Justice Department attorneys have yet to respond to AIDEA’s complaint filed in the U.S. District Court in Alaska.

Elwood Brehmer can be contacted at [email protected].

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