Markey, Senate Dems dig in against GOP Arctic drilling push

By Michael P. Norton

Seven U.S. Senate Democrats, including Sen. Edward Markey, plan to call Tuesday for Republicans to remove language from a budget resolution allowing for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

League of Conservation Voters (LCV) Senior Vice President Tiernan Sittenfeld earlier this month said GOP budget proposals "include a huge giveaway to oil and gas companies by paving the way for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, home to the Gwich'in people and iconic wildlife."

LCV officials plan to join Markey and senators from Colorado, Washington, New Mexico, Oregon and Minnesota at 11:15 a.m. to discuss their views. According to Markey's office, 40 senators are backing legislation he introduced in April with Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado designating the Coastal Plain of the Arctic refuge as wilderness and protecting it from drilling.

"Drilling in the Arctic Refuge is not a budget issue, and it's not a political bargaining chip to pay for tax cuts," Sittenfeld said. "Budgets and tax plans are about priorities, and there is perhaps no better example of whose side the extreme Republican leadership is on than their outrageous attempts to use the budget resolutions to drill in this national treasure."

Saying he wanted to open up America's energy potential, President Donald Trump in April signed an executive order requiring the federal government to review regulations put in place in 2016 that the Trump administration believes could limit exploratory drilling on the Arctic Outer Continental Shelf.

"It reverses the previous administration’s Arctic leasing ban," Trump said at the time. "So hear that: It reverses the previous administration’s Arctic leasing ban, and directs Secretary Zinke to allow responsible development of offshore areas that will bring revenue to our Treasury and jobs to our workers."

On Friday, the New York Times reported that energy exploration supporters see hope for activity in the 19 million-acre refuge in northeastern Alaska.

"With Republicans holding both houses of Congress and the presidency, the prospects for opening the refuge, at least to studies of its oil and gas potential, are better than they have been in years," the Times reported. "And a budget resolution introduced late last month, and supported by Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, may help pave the way."

Markey, of Malden, in late September drew attention to GOP efforts to link budget matters with the Arctic refuge.

"By releasing a budget today that sets the stage for attaching drilling in the Arctic Refuge to the Republican attempts to fast track a tax package, they have shown that they have learned none of the lessons of the Trumpcare failures," Markey said on Sept. 29. "There is bipartisan opposition to drilling in our nation's most pristine wildlife refuge and any effort to include it in the tax package would only further imperil the legislation as a whole. I will fight vigorously on the Senate floor to remove this extraneous giveaway to Big Oil from the budget and protect this special place."