2014 National Election and Arctic Development

2014 National Election and Arctic Development

Washington – The results of the national election Tuesday has caused many political pundits to comment on the controversy of passing legislation on development in the 10-02 coastal plain of ANWR. National results are still being counted around the nation but the overwhelming republican results in the House and Senate has spurned a few to state arctic development could stand a chance. Decades of history on this situation has proven otherwise.

The decision to open the 10-02 Area of ANWR defined and created by Congress in the 1980 ANILCA bill remains the single most legislated energy issue in American history. Anything between 12-22 bills including an ANWR prevision have been introduced each Congress since 1980. Most of those bill were authored by non-Alaskans. In 1987 the Department of Interior, after exhaustive study, recommended to Congress to open the 10-02 Area to exploration and since then the House has approved this action 12 times; the Senate 3 times. In 1995 both bodies had approved 10-02 development only to have President Clinton veto the measure saying, “it would take 10 years to develop”.

In 1998 the USGS released what has become the penultimate report on the 10-02 question and stated the 10-02 represented the geologic best hope on the North American continent to find a super giant conventional oil field. The report stated economic, technological, and social statistics that showed 10-02 development was economically and environmentally possible and beneficial to the nation.

Since then the battle on Capitol Hill has descended in to a nonsensical political football game entirely and irrationally based on party lines. Democrats, whether being informed on the issue or not, have generally voted against development, and Republicans, whether knowledgeable on development or not have generally voted for it. A scant few fiscally conservative “Blue-dog” democrats, often from energy producing states themselves (Mary Landrieu, Joe Manchin), have supported development, and similarly a small handful of republicans (Mark Kirk, John McCain) have voted against the issue. The financial fuel provided by the millions of dollars the environmental movement fundraises off of the ANWR controvesy is fed back into Congressional election campaigns of democrats and against pro development republicans to further divide the issue. Rhetoric from both sides is often rife during debates in committees and on the floor.

During the Bush years where both houses of Congress and the Presidency were in republican hands deadlock still remained on the issue. The prime reason for all the delay is the filibuster rule in the Senate and the difficulty in getting 60 votes to overturn a filibuster. The 2005 vote on ANWR was perhaps one of the best examples of the power of filibuster and how overwhelming numbers of support by both the public and all the bodies of government still couldn’t allow passage of an issue. The ANWR measure failed in the Senate by 2 votes.

The congressional make up of the 114th Congress will certainly be a step in the right direction for 10-02 development yet, no one, least of all the new Chair of the Senate Energy Committee, Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, are holding their breath. The House has retained a large 25+ (currently) republican majority and will easily be able to pass any controversial 10-02 bill. The Senate will undoubtedly be able to move the issue out of the Energy Committee but it will face the usual high hurdle of filibuster on the floor and to that, 60 votes to overturn a filibuster on the measure do not exist. Added to this the adamant view of President Obama against 10-02 development will certainly lead to veto threats.

Only two ways remain: the first to include the measure in the Budget process which requires only a 51 vote majority and cannot be filibustered nor vetoed. This was tried in 2005 by the late Senator Stevens of Alaska but failed on the last of a series of 8 votes. The Budget process measure is based on the tax revenue that could be generated to the national treasury by ANWR development. Revenue from 10-02 development the Congressional Budget Office estimates lease revenue from the 10-02 could be $5 billion, and the Congressional Research Service numbers on tax revenue from production in the 10-02 could be anywhere from $84-$237 billion based on $100 oil. The strategy to include an ANWR provision in the Budget process is not easy as the political causticity created by the environmental movements money against the issue causes politicians on both sides of the aisle to shy away from inclusion. Why risk the environmental movements financial backlash at ones next election for including an issue that is possibly far away from constituent voters main concerns? Achieving a budget victory without ANWR is far easier and politically palatable for all concerned.

The second possibility to pass a 10-02 provision is using an “all of the above” omnibus bill and inserting a provision to allow exploration to take place. Moderate democrats would be forced to swallow a bitter pill in voting to support wind production tax subsidies or any such politically desirable issue but also getting 10-02 development thrown in as a bitter pill issue. One can’t get one without the other.

The likelihood over the next two years will be passage of Keystone Pipeline bill in 2015 followed by OCS revenue sharing, allowing oil exports, and potentially a repeal of the “B-2” management plan of the NPR-A. All these issues will be positive for the nation and for Alaskan Arctic development. These all stand a fairly good chance to pass both House and Senate. A 10-02 provision will likely be the last thing to be attempted by republicans due to the extreme rhetorical opposition generated by the environmental movement and democrats opposed to the measure. It is the high fruit on the tree.

Certainly the past 30 years of debate on the issue has shown that republicans from across the nation are very active in submitting ANWR legislation no matter what the make up of Congress or who is in the White House. Again, ANWR 10-02 remains the single most legislated energy issue in American history. A raft of new bills will certainly be introduced in 2015 to underscore this. The actual movement of the issue will most probably occur in the House and move to the Senate. It will meet with success in the Senate Energy Cmte but from that point on the battle will really begin. Democrat opposition in the Senate will threaten filibuster and the White House will pressure Sen. Reid to do everything in his power to prevent passage.

There is little doubt a vote will take place yet success on this is anyone’s guess. Yet with 15 successful “yes” votes between the two bodies of Congress on the ANWR issue one has to ask, how many times does Congress have to say yes to finally get the job done? It surely shows a fundamental flaw in the system that after 30 years we still do not have a decision.