A bipartisan group of House lawmakers introduced legislation Monday that would ban oil and natural gas drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).
The bill from Reps. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) would repeal a section of the 2017 GOP tax-cut law that, for the first time, opened part of the refuge for drilling.
“Not only is the refuge one of the last great expanses of untouched wilderness in America, it is home to tremendous ecological diversity. It’s one of the last bastions of true wildness left on the planet,” Huffman said at a Monday news conference, flanked by Lowenthal and representatives of environmental groups and the Gwich’in people, an Alaska Native group.
“This is a deeply unpopular thing in the United States. People don’t want it. They haven’t asked for it,” he said. “And they will not accept that the wildest place in our country is on track to be sacrificed at the altar of Big Oil.”
“We can’t give the oil and gas industry the green light to permanently destroy one of our nation’s last truly wild places,” said Lowenthal.
Huffman chairs the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Oceans and Wildlife. Lowenthal chairs the Energy and Mineral Resources subpanel.
Fitzpatrick voted for the 2017 tax bill, but has stated that he opposes the ANWR drilling provision.
ANWR drilling opponents face an uphill battle, since Republicans control the Senate and the White House.
Alaska’s leaders and congressional delegation have been pushing for decades to open ANWR to drilling. The 2017 tax bill provided an opportunity since it used special Senate rules to avoid needing at least 60 votes to advance.
Under the 2017 law, the Interior Department must hold two drilling rights lease auctions for ANWR in the 10 years following its passage.
Interior’s Bureau of Land Management is working on the environmental review for drilling, which must be completed before it can sell leases.
Drilling opponents have accused the Trump administration of rushing through the process to get leases sold and drilling started. Officials have said they want to hold the first auction in 2020.
Huffman said that makes the issue more urgent, and means opponents can’t wait to act until Democrats control the Senate and the White House.
“The Trump administration is in a red hot hurry to try to get leases in place,” Huffman said. “And we all know why. They know that a Democratic administration is going to undo this wrongheaded thing that they’re trying rush through.”