Senate Budget Resolution Breathes Life into ANWR

By a 51-49 vote, the Senate this past week passed a budget resolution that creates a fast-track process for writing legislation to permit drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

Congress created the 19 million-acre ANWR in 1960. Twenty years later, Congress set aside ANWR’s 1.5 million-acre coastal plain due to its potential for oil and natural gas development. Congress postponed a decision on whether to allow drilling in the set-aside area, in order to allow for the government to assess its potential.

Since then, the U.S. Geological Survey has estimated that there are likely 10.4 billion barrels of economically recoverable oil in the set-aside region, and perhaps up to 16 billion barrels. For comparison’s sake, the Bakken shale play, the development of which has ushered in an American energy renaissance, contains an estimated 2 billion barrels of recoverable oil.

Drilling the area is supported by 78 percent of Alaskans, the state legislature, the governor, and the entire Alaskan congressional delegation.

Given the potential for wealth creation and the overwhelming support of Alaskans, you would think congressional approval of ANWR drilling would be a no-brainer. Unfortunately, environmental special interests have achieved enough influence among progressives so as to prevent development. Green groups claim that drilling in ANWR would harm the region’s caribou. However, this claim is belied by the area’s ecological history. To the immediate west of ANWR, drilling has been occurring on Prudhoe Bay for almost 40 years. When drilling there started, there were 3,000 caribou in the Central Arctic Herd, which calves around Prudhoe Bay. Currently, there are 22,000 caribou in the herd. So much for the threat posed by drilling to caribou.

Despite the baselessness of environmentalist claims, the power of these groups ensures that any bill to authorize ANWR drilling would face a filibuster in the Senate. As such, it is both necessary and appropriate for congressional leadership to circumvent a filibuster through parliamentary means. To this end, the Senate’s budget resolution is an admittedly complicated strategy. The resolution, which was not subject to a filibuster, would require the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to draft a bill to generate $1 billion in new revenue for tax cuts through federal royalties engendered by drilling. That bill, in turn, would be privileged and thereby avoid a filibuster.

The House of Representatives passed a parallel resolution that would allow for more drilling by requiring a bill to generate $4 billion through ANWR drilling. The two chambers will now conference to resolve the differences in their respective bills, but for now, it appears as though common sense may prevail.