U.S. House passes bill to repeal drilling in Alaska refuge

by Reuters
Thursday, 12 September 2019 17:19 GMT

(Adds details on bill, quote from Representative Huffman, views of drilling backers)

By Timothy Gardner

WASHINGTON, Sept 12 (Reuters) - The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday passed a bill to reverse a 2017 law that allows oil and gas drilling in part of Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), which conservationists say is one of the last pristine regions on Earth.

The bill, sponsored by Representative Jared Huffman, a Democrat from California, passed 225-193. The measure is not expected to gain traction in the Republican-led Senate. But Democrats, who lead the House, are seeking to pressure Republicans that have supported President Donald Trump's weakening and overturning of rules meant to limit emissions of gases scientists link to climate change.

The refuge had been off limits until 2017, when Republicans tacked a measure onto a tax law to open up the "1002 area" on the coastal plain of ANWR. A final environmental review of the drilling is expected to be released by the Trump administration this week. The Interior Department has vowed https://www.reuters.com/article/us-alaska-oil-refuge/u-s-vows-first-oil-lease-sale-in-alaska-arctic-refuge-this-year-idUSKCN1T1011 to hold the first of two lease sales in ANWR this year.

Huffman rejected claims by Republicans that the drilling would take place in an tiny area they have said is the size of a postage stamp compared to the vastness of the reserve.

"It's the world's biggest postage stamp if it is, and it would certainly despoil the beating heart of America's largest wildlife refuge," if drilling moves forward, Huffman said.

The refuge has been protected since 1960 and was renamed Arctic National Wildlife Refuge by President Jimmy Carter in 1980. It is home to wildlife populations including porcupine caribou that Gwich'in natives depend on, polar bears and millions of birds that migrate to six of the seven continents.

Backers of drilling in ANWR say that blocking it would increase U.S. dependence on foreign oil and deprive local communities of jobs and resources. They also say it would help fill the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, a source of oil for the U.S. West Coast. The pipeline is now operating well below capacity after production in Alaska slumped.

On Wednesday, the House passed two bills to ban new oil and gas drilling off Florida and the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Bill Berkrot)

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