WASHINGTON, D.C. –Senator Lisa Murkowski today introduced legislation to open the Arctic Coastal Plain in Alaska to oil development when the price of oil reaches $125 a barrel. Oil prices are likely to keep rising and are unlikely to slow unless oil development is increased.

Senator Murkowski’s legislation, co-sponsored by Senator Ted Stevens, the American Energy Independence and Security Act of 2008, would automatically open 1.5 million acres of the coastal plain of the 19-million-acre Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil exploration and development if the world price of oil reaches $125 a barrel for five days. Exploration and development in ANWR would be governed by a series of strict environmental safeguards that prohibit more than 2,000 acres of the refuge from physical disturbance, which mandate that directional drilling be used to minimize disturbance to wildlife, and which require winter-only exploration and the use of ice roads that disappear in summer to protect wildlife habitat.

Revenues that the federal government would obtain from opening ANWR: leases, royalty, bonus revenues and corporate taxes will go toward funding alternative energy development. The money will also go to paying for home energy assistance, weatherization and the Women’s Infants and Children’s nutrition programs whose recipients are all being ravaged by current record high oil prices.

“Americans are hurting each time they fill up their cars at the gas station and are forced to cut back spending on other necessities simply to afford their winter heating bills,” said Senator Murkowski. “There is a lot of hand wringing in Washington about what to do about record high oil prices that are strangling our economy. Rather than forcing American to beg for increased oil from the Middle East, America should produce our own oil to increase supply and drive down prices. Alaska’s Arctic coastal plain is likely to hold the largest reserve of traditional oil left on land in North America. We owe it to our country to responsibly produce domestic oil and use the revenues to promote energy conservation and develop alternative resources.”

“Americans are fed up with astronomical oil prices being imposed by unstable foreign governments and the problem is getting worse every day,” said Senator Stevens. “Oil at more than $125 a barrel will force higher prices on basic necessities like food and gasoline, and forces many Alaskans, especially fishermen, out of work. We can no longer afford to be at the mercy of OPEC. I stand with Senator Murkowski in this effort to provide immediate and long-term relief to America’s energy crisis. This bill advances true energy independence, redirecting billions of American dollars away from OPEC and towards alternative energies made possible through the responsible development of our own available natural resources.”

“This delegation has tried repeatedly to open up this minute portion of the 19 million Arctic Refuge,” said Rep. Young. “If Bill Clinton had not vetoed the budget bill containing ANWR in 1995, we might not be facing as severe an oil crisis today, and it is a shame that Congress has not opened ANWR before now. I fully support the actions Sens. Murkowski and Stevens are taking in the Senate; it is a commendable step in the right direction to making this country more energy independent. I am also in the process of drafting on a comprehensive energy bill in the House. This Congress has not produced a single piece of legislation that actually produces energy since the Trans Alaska Pipeline in 1973 and because we have not acted, Americans are struggling to pay their heating bills. That is unacceptable. I thank Sens. Murkowski and Stevens for introducing this legislation, and I hope that the Congress will finally start taking the actions necessary to bring relief to the American people.”

This legislation specifically designates that of the first $3.5 billion of expected lease royalties half would go to fund projects designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions such as alternative energy grants, wind, solar, geothermal, biomass, ocean and landfill gas projects, as well as gasification and carbon capture and storage projects. These projects were all authorized by the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.

The other half of royalties would help fund the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), the current federal weatherization program that helps insulate homes to cut energy bills, and the Women’s Infants and Children’s Nutrition program that provides food aid to low income individuals. The legislation intends that the entire potential $152 to $237.5 billion in federal production taxes over the life of oil production from ANWR, according to the Congressional Research Service, be split this way.

The Alaska Delegation last year proposed designating the area as part of a Strategic Petroleum Reserve and only allowing exploration to occur. Senator Murkowski said she has returned to seeking approval for a full opening of the area given the nearly 50 percent hike in oil prices over the past 18 months.