Alaska Lawmakers, Industry Tell Democrats to Stand Down

House Democrats sent the Senate legislation to crack down on Alaskan fossil-fuel, logging, and mining projects, but the state’s lawmakers are vowing a fierce fight.

House Democrats are taking aim at key industries in The Last Frontier.

The House passed a minibus spending bill this week that includes a controversial provision to require national minimum bids for oil and gas development in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

And Democrats pushed through, on a largely partisan basis, language to ban public funds from being used to build logging roads in the nation’s largest national forest, a 17-million-acre expanse in southern Alaska called Tongass, after also pumping the brakes on an Alaskan mine in a previous spending bill.

But on the heels of a string of legislative victories for Alaskan heavyweights since President Trump took office, Republican lawmakers and fossil-fuel representatives are vowing to fight tooth-and-nail to defend those gains.

“This spending bill is a disaster for Alaska,” said Rep. Don Young, Alaska’s at-large House member for the past 46 years, following passage of the minibus, which includes Interior Department spending. “Democrats, most of whom have never been to Alaska, seem to think they know what’s best for my state.”

Republicans, led by Alaska’s senior senator, Lisa Murkowski, tacked ANWR language onto the 2017 tax-cut bill, arguing that drilling in one section of the remote region would generate at least several hundred billion dollars of federal revenue.

The tax bill required Murkowski, from her perch as chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, to craft policy to generate $1 billion in federal revenue over 10 years. On top of the ANWR language, Murkowski, an adept policymaker and fierce defender of the Alaskan fossil-fuel industry, tacked language onto the tax legislation to authorize $600 million in crude-oil sales from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

Still, environmental groups, along with Taxpayers for Common Sense, argue that leasing in ANWR will fall woefully short of the revenue guarantees. The tax bill authorized two lease sales or more of at least 400,000 acres in ANWR over the decade following enactment, and half of the revenue is obligated to Alaska.

Recent lease sales in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska—federal land with no relation to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve—bode poorly for a huge federal windfall linked to ANWR development.

The last lease sale in the NPR-A , which took place in December 2018, yielded a $19.01 high bid per acre. And oil and gas companies bid on only 6 percent of tracts offered. Most, if not all, energy lease sales in the U.S. are conducted through competitive bidding with no minimum bids.

Still, developers are bullish, pointing to an Alaska offshore lease sale in 2008 that fetched $2.6 billion in sales.

“Is it going to be a $2 billion lease sale like the [Outer Continental Shelf]? I don’t know,” said Kara Moriarty, president of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association. “Is it going to be a $500,000 lease sale? I don’t know. You don’t know until you have it.”

But beyond the hard numbers or lease projections, Alaskan lawmakers and business leaders say Democrats in Washington D.C. are pushing disproportionate regulation on the state. “We do feel like sometimes we’re under the microscope,” Moriarty said. “It is frustrating. Oftentimes, we see the opposition from people who have never been here. They’re not raising a family here.”

And some of the Alaskan lawmakers are pulling no punches.

Many national Democrats “spend all their time trying to shut down my state, trying to lock up my state, trying to make sure my citizens don’t have economic opportunities. And I’ll fight it to the last dying breath that I have,” Sen. Dan Sullivan, a former commissioner of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, told National Journal.

“The whole East Coast is a shit-show of destruction, environmental pollution, and chemicals everywhere, and then they want to come to my state and tell me how to run my state. It’s ridiculous,” Sullivan said.

The House has now sent two large spending packages to the Senate, and the Republican majority will overhaul each. Murkowski, who is also the top appropriator for the Interior Department account, will deploy all options to bat down the Alaska language.

Murkowski has spearheaded a host of Alaska-centric legislative victories since Trump took the White House. In 2018, the Interior Department signed off on a deal to authorize a road through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge to the remote village of King Cove in southern Alaska, a key priority for the Alaska delegation.

Several months later, Murkowski lauded an agreement brokered between the Forest Service and Alaska to retool the Roadless Rule, a regulation that prevents road construction on public lands. She also helped to push Alaska Native Tara Sweeney through the confirmation process last year as the Interior Department’s assistant secretary for Indian Affairs.

But Democrats are pushing forward regardless of the looming resistance.

“I tend to think we should keep slugging away,” Rep. Jared Huffman, who has led the House effort to block ANWR drilling, told National Journal. “If nothing else, I think it puts us in better bargaining posture relative to the Senate and the administration.”

And Democrats from the lower 48 states are not alone in the fight to keep ANWR free from drilling. Alaska conservation groups are also putting their weight behind the provision.

“This is basically a no-brainer. It’s just holding Congress accountable for the obligations that they laid out when they added Arctic Refuge drilling to the tax act,” said Kristen Miller, conservation director at the Alaska Wilderness League.

By:  Brian Dabbs
Source: National Journal