The U.S. House Appropriations Committee approved a bill Friday that would erect barriers to oil development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and logging in the Tongass National Forest.
The provisions are tucked into the Democrats’ appropriations bill for the Interior Department and the Forest Service. The Republican-led Senate is sure to block them, so the measures serve primarily as a statement of Democratic values and to draw attention to what environmentalists view as endangered land in Alaska.
One provision says the government can only auction off drilling rights on the Coastal Plain of the Arctic Refuge with a minimum bid of half a billion dollars.
The Interior Department is expected to announce an ANWR lease sale soon. Alaska’s delegation in Congress wants to see the area developed. But Alaska’s sole House member isn’t on the appropriations committee, so it fell to Rep. Dan Newhouse to try to remove the ANWR provision.
“In addition to creating new jobs in Alaska and across the nation, opening this minuscule area to oil exploration, empowers the United States to reduce our dependence on foreign sources of oil and expand our domestic energy supply,” Rep. Newhouse, R-Wash., said during the House Appropriations Committee’s session on the bill.
Newhouse’s amendment also aimed to remove a sentence in the bill to block new logging roads in the Tongass.
Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., was among those who argued against the amendment.
“One of the provisions in the bill that this amendment seeks to strip would end millions of dollars of taxpayer subsidies to the timber industry in Alaska and stop the irreparable damage to the Tongass National Forest, a treasured part of our unique national heritage,” he said.
The Newhouse amendment failed, leaving the anti-development measures for the Tongass and the Arctic Refuge in the bill. The legislation next goes to the full House, where it will likely pass.
The Senate is working on its own bill. As Newhouse acknowledged during the debate, the Alaska provisions don’t stand much chance in the conference committee where the two bills will be reconciled.