The Republican-led push to open part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling is back on Congress’ table, after the Senate included that provision in its $2.8 trillion budget bill.
Democrats were unable to block the provision after one of their own, Sen. Mary Landrieu, supported the budget bill, which passed 51-49 on Thursday. The Louisiana Democrat sided with Republicans after winning concessions to help her hurricane-damaged state of Louisiana and rest of the Gulf Coast.
She won inclusion of a proposal that could provide up $2 billion a year for levee and coastal restoration projects. The money would come from auctioning television airwaves to wireless companies and from potential oil lease revenues from drilling in the Alaska refuge.
The refuge provision estimates $6 billion will be generated in leasing fees and bonus bids paid by energy companies.
The budget bill instructs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to draft legislation to open the refuge to drilling in order to raise the required $6 billion.
Sen. Pete Domenici, the Republican chairman of the energy committee, said he will send the ANWR-opening legislation to the Senate Budget Committee by mid-May.
Landrieu said she was doing what was best for her state. But her discomfort was apparent. “I most certainly don’t relish this position,” Landrieu said of being the only Democrat to vote yes.
Environmentalists were livid.
“We deeply regret that some senators are still willing to do Big Oil’s bidding, and we now turn to the House where the Arctic drilling scheme should be dead on arrival,” Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope said in a statement.
Tiernan Sittenfeld of the League of Conservation Voters stated that “in yet another blatant abuse of power, anti-environmental leaders in the Senate are using the budget process in a misguided attempt to open one of America's most pristine wild places to oil drilling.”
House Republicans have expressed strong reservations about the Senate bill, saying Congress should do more to curb federal spending.
The Senate only last December blocked a previous attempt to open part of the refuge to drilling.