Tuesday, March 13, 2012

U.S. Senate Rejects Amendment To S.1813 To Open ANWR To Exploration And Responsible Development, 41-57

On March 13th, 2012, another measure calling for the opening of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) for exploration and responsible development of oil reserves was rejected by the U.S. Senate by a 41-57 vote, with two not voting. However, some people are saying that the measure never had a chance because it was part of an amendment containing so many controversial items it was bound to fail in the Democratic-controlled Senate. In contrast, the House and Alaska Rep. Don Young managed to pass in February a bill that would have opened ANWR.

The ANWR provision was part of S.Amdt 1826 to S.1813, one of 10 separate amendments to the parent bill presented for a vote on March 13th. S.Amdt 1826 was loaded with a number of reauthorization, energy incentive, and tax extender provisions mostly related to energy issues. The specific ANWR provision is contained in Subtitle F (Coastal Plain), which begins on Page 1550, repealing Section 1003 of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980, which is the bill that put ANWR off limits in the first place.

Read the full roll call vote HERE. Among the 41 senators voting in favor were Republican Lisa Murkowski and Democrat Mark Begich, as Begich set aside some personal reservations about the rest of the amendment to vote for ANWR. Claire McCaskill, the Missouri senator who's been at odds with Lisa Murkowski over no-bid contracts for Native corporations, was another of the three Democrats who voted for the amendment. However, seven Republicans voted against it, including Jim DeMint (SC) and Mike Lee (UT). The latter two are quite surprising because both are trusted pro-energy conservatives; some people on Free Republic are stunned that DeMint voted No. It is possible that DeMint and Lee, knowing the amendment had no chance of passage, wanted to cast their No votes as a symbol of their objection to the parent transportation bill, which they may feel is loaded with pork.

Afterwards, Mark Begich complained the bill was loaded full of other provisions and was put forth to score political points. "If we want to get serious about an energy plan that includes ANWR and other Alaska oil and gas resources, let's get to it. But an amendment to an important transportation bill that is put forward simply to divide the body is not a good way to conduct public policy," said Begich. Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS), the sponsor of the amendment, should have known better than to append an ANWR bill to a controversial transportation bill, but Roberts defended his amendment, explaining that it would have cut through red tape and make more land available for oil and gas leases, thus reducing the price of gasoline.

Contrary to popular misconception, the objective is not to open up the entire Refuge for oil exploration and development, but only a small part considered most promising for development. Ninety-two percent of the Refuge would remain untouched. Furthermore, to more precisely specify the definition of land that could be used in ANWR, Congress has limited any future development footprint size to 2000 acres. This means that within the 1.5 million acres of the targeted area and within the total 19.6 million acres of ANWR, only 2000 acres can be used. When all is said and done, that's less than ½ of 1 percent of the total area of ANWR.

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