U.S. House panel passes reconciliation bill protecting Arctic reserve from drilling

The measure is included in a much larger spending bill focused on fighting climate change.

By Timothy Gardner (Reuters) - September 10, 2021
The coastal plain within the 1002 Area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is seen in this undated handout photo provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Alaska Image Library. The Brooks mountain range in the distance is not part of the 1002 area. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service / File Photo via Reuters)

WASHINGTON — The House Natural Resources Committee late on Thursday passed legislation that will go into a wider budget reconciliation package that includes restoring protections for Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from oil and gas drilling.

The committee approved the measure 24-13 after Republicans weighed down the process with about 100 amendments forcing Representative Raul Grijalva, a Democrat and the chairman of the panel, to extend markup of the bill into a second day after holding the first session last week.

Republicans urged Grijalva to postpone the panel’s consideration of the bill, saying Congress should first help people recover from Hurricane Ida and concentrate on the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan. Representative Garret Graves, a Louisiana Republican who joined the panel remotely while dealing with the aftermath of Ida, said the bill would harm offshore oil production.

However, Grijalva said the bill is aimed at curbing climate change, which can make storms like Ida stronger, and creating jobs in the energy transition.

The bill protects Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the Outer Continental Shelf from future oil and gas drilling. It also invests $3 billion in a Civilian Climate Corps, $9.5 billion for Great Lakes restoration and climate resiliency projects, and $2.5 billion to clean up abandoned hardrock mines.

The legislation raises money by establishing a hardrock mineral royalty, which Democrats said will raise about $2 billion over 10 years, increasing fossil fuel royalty rates and extending royalty fees to methane emissions.

On Jan. 6, the administration of Donald Trump held the first lease sale for ANWR, with only nine of 22 tracts sold and none bought by major energy companies.

Environmentalists cheered the passage of the legislation. “Developing this National Wildlife Refuge for oil and gas is simply bad business with unacceptably high costs to people, wildlife and the environment,” said Nicole Whittington-Evans, director of Defenders of Wildlife’s Alaska Program.

Democrats in Congress are hoping to pass the $3.5 trillion reconciliation spending measure this autumn but moderates in the party, Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, have protested the overall price tag.