When lawmakers return to Capitol Hill next month, Republican leaders plan to focus attention on their next energy priority: opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska to oil and gas production.
Although most Democrats oppose the proposal, GOP leaders have a bigger obstacle to overcome. Two dozen House Republicans have asked House Resources Committee Chairman Richard W. Pombo (R-Calif.) not to use the deficit-reducing budget “reconciliation” procedure to authorize drilling in ANWR.
“We believe the debate on opening this unique land to oil and gas exploration should be done outside the budget process,” the group told Pombo in a recent letter. Including the anticipated $2.4 billion in revenues from ANWR oil and gas leasing in the reconciliation process is designed to avoid stalling tactics by Senate opponents. The budget measure cannot be filibustered.
Close votes are expected when Congress takes up the package in mid-September. Democrats oppose drilling in the refuge’s 1.5 million-acre coastal plain, arguing wildlife would be harmed. If a significant number of Republicans join the opposition, efforts to open ANWR could be derailed once again. Pombo, a strong drilling advocate, hasn’t made a decision about pursuing ANWR through the budget legislation, a spokeswoman says.