The Republican tax legislation making its way through Congress could offer more than just tax cuts for Americans if one portion of the bill survives reconciliation in the House. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) introduced a provision to allow oil exploration and production in a small portion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
The bill, if it becomes law, would require at least two lease sales in 2,000 areas of a 1.5-million acre portion of the 19.6 million acres refuge, known as the 1002 area.
“This small package offers a tremendous opportunity for Alaska, for the Gulf Coast, and for all of our nation,” Murkowski said ahead of the vote. “We have authorized responsible energy development in the 1002 area.”
The Washington Examiner reported that Murkowski has tried to get legislation passed to accomplish what this tax bill may achieve every year of her tenure in the Senate.
The Examiner reported:
But this year, Republican control of Congress and the White House spurred Senate Republicans to consider the provision with the tax reform measure under budget reconciliation rules that allow it to avoid a filibuster and pass with a simple majority vote.
Murkowski and other advocates of developing America’s energy resources say that doing so now in environmentally sensitive places is safer than ever before because of technological advances, including horizontal drilling or hydraulic fracturing.
They also see this development as a boast for the American economy. Jack Gerard, president and CEO of the American Petroleum Institute, an oil and natural gas trade association, said in a statement after the bill passed:
As this process continues and API and its members review in greater detail the 429-page bill, the oil and natural gas industry stands ready to work with Congress and the administration to enact strong, pro-growth tax legislation to ensure that our industry remains a major driver of economic growth, investing billions each year in the U.S. economy and supporting over 10 million U.S. jobs.
The provision was in danger at one point because of a procedural violation, according to the Examiner, that revealed it would not bring in the $1 billion needed to help fund tax reform.
To make up the difference for the $366 million shortfall, Republican lawmakers decided to sell seven million barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR).
SPR “is the world’s largest supply of emergency crude oil. The federally-owned oil stocks are stored in huge underground salt caverns along the coastline of the Gulf of Mexico,” according to the Department of Energy.
Critics of any human activity in the wildlife refuge were quick to slam the provision.
The Hill reported that the National Audubon Society called it “simply shameful.”
“Opening the Arctic to drilling as part of this tax plan is simply shameful,” David Yarnold, president and CEO, said in a statement released on Saturday. “The Arctic Refuge isn’t a bank—drilling there won’t pay for the tax cuts the Senate just passed.”
“The American people don’t support drilling in the Arctic and it’s up to the House to reject this flawed bill,” Yarnold said.
The wildlife refuge was established in 1960 to protect the area and its wildlife inhabitants. But in 1980 Congress passed legislation that allowed a 1.5 million acre portion of it to be considered for oil exploration and production.
The Senate passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act 51-49, with Vice President Mike Pence presiding over the vote, which took place in the wee hours of Saturday morning.