Muckraker: Grist on Politics

While Dick Cheney’s busy cheerleading for increased domestic drilling from the White House, House Republicans have been cooking up yet another bill to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to drilling.

The bill, which they’re calling the “American Energy Independence and Price Reduction Act,” would “direct the Secretary of the Interior to establish and implement a competitive oil and gas leasing program that will result in an environmentally sound program for the exploration, development, and production of the oil and gas resources of the Coastal Plain of Alaska.” Half of the proceeds of any oil pulled from beneath the Refuge would go to the state of Alaska, and the other half would be transferred to an “ANWR Alternative Energy Trust Fund,” which the bill also creates. According the language in the bill, the money in the fund could be used to “carry out specified provisions of the Energy Policy Act of 2005” — ostensibly, improved efficiency and R&D of renewable energy sources.

Republican desire to drill in ANWR is well-trod territory, and it’s resurfaced lately as a “solution” to high gas prices. But among those leading the call this time are two representatives who voted against opening ANWR in the past: Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.), who’s also a cosponsor of the bill, and Jim Walsh (R-N.Y.), who held a press conference yesterday to make the case for new legislation that would allow oil and natural gas production in a portion of the refuge.

“For the past four years, I voted against drilling in ANWR,”said Bartlett yesterday. “That is because America’s two percent of world oil reserves are like savings in the bank earning huge interest rates. I didn’t think it was wise to just withdraw and spend it unless we also required changes to conserve and invest the federal revenues from ANWR in efficiency and cleaner domestic alternative and renewable energy sources.”

In fact, drilling in ANWR would have no effect on gas prices today. And the oil that drilling proponents speculate is there would bring down gas prices just four cents per gallon in 2027, according to the Energy Information Administration. The notion that drilling could be done in an environmentally sustainable way has been challenged by enviros in the region, including the Alaska Wilderness League [PDF]. But you can expect they’ll be leaning hard on drilling this summer as gas prices continue to creep up.