House committee advances bill to limit Arctic refuge drilling

By Laura Bies

The coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is often called the biological heart of the refuge.
©Lisa Hupp/USFWS

Last week, the House Natural Resources Committee advanced legislation that would prohibit oil and gas exploration and development along the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The Arctic Cultural and Coastal Plain Protection Act (H.R. 1146), introduced by Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., repeals language from the 2017 tax law, which first opened the coastal plain to energy development.

Huffman spoke in support of the bill, and also attempted to clarify its scope. “I also want to make absolutely clear what this bill does, which is simply restore the Arctic Refuge to the status it had before the Republican tax bill of 2017,” he said. “It doesn’t roll back oil and gas development elsewhere in the state. It doesn’t shut down activities in the neighboring National Petroleum Reserve. It does nothing to go after the existing jobs in oil and gas. It simply says you can’t expand into this one special place, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.”

The vote follows a hearing on the legislation held by the Energy and Mineral Resources subcommittee in late March, during which the bill’s supporters and opponents offered extensive testimony regarding the bill.

The 1.5 million-acre coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is an area of critical ecological importance for numerous species, including birds, polar bears (Ursus maritimus) and caribou (Rangifer tarandus). The Department of the Interior has been moving forward with plans to drill in the Alaska refuge, including along the coastal plain.

The bill now moves to the floor of the House for a vote. If passed by the House, it would then go to the Republican-controlled Senate, where it is unlikely to advance. The Alaska Senate delegation supports energy exploration and development along the refuge’s coastal plain. Sen. Murkowski (R-Alaska) championed the 2017 language permitting drilling.

The committee also considered several other bills during the first mark-up in the 116th Congress. One bill passed by the committee, H.R. 1568, would support endangered North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis) conservation by authorizing $5 million in spending annually for the next 10 years. Another, H.R. 1809, would permit the District of Columbia and U.S. territories and to receive funding through the Pittman-Robertson Act.

Read TWS’ Position Statement on Energy Development and Wildlife.

Laura BiesLaura Bies is a government relations contractor and freelance writer for The Wildlife Society. She has a B.S. in Environmental Science and a law degree from George Washington University. Laura has worked with The Wildlife Society since 2005. Read more of Laura's articles.

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