Republicans, Democrats spar on opening sliver of ANWR
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Washington (Platts)--21Sep2011/327 pm EDT/1927 GMT
The prospects of oil and gas production from a sliver of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was discussed by a key house committee Wednesday in a hearing that turned testy at times and highlighted the vast divide between Republicans and Democrats on the issue.
Republican Doc Hastings of Washington, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, invited a panel of witnesses that included Alaska's governor, the state's two US senators, and Carey Hall, otherwise known as "Big Daddy," a truck driver featured on the History Channel series "Ice Road Truckers."
"I am not a brain surgeon or a rocket scientist, but I can tell you one thing I do know -- it is with vigilance and dedication and that oil companies keep working to produce safe practices, regulating the way they work with the natural resources and the environment," Hall said. "It's about jobs -- our economy needs them."
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Republicans framed the debate in terms of job creation, deficit reduction and reducing dependence on non-US sources of oil. Democrats countered that the US could raise more money, faster, by eliminating tax deductions for large oil companies.
Democrats also said that oil companies should be forced to produce from unproductive leases before new areas are opened for exploration.
"Companies are sitting on more oil offshore than we could ever get from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge," Representative Edward Markey, Democrat-Massachusetts, said.
Testifying in favor of opening up the coastal plains section of ANWR to drilling were Alaska Governor Sean Parnell, a Republican, and the state's US Senators, Lisa Murkowski, a Republican, and Mark Begich, a Democrat.
"It's accessible. It's extractable. And oil production and wildlife in ANWR are compatible," Parnell said via a video hookup. "Oil from ANWR could help meet US demand for the next 25 years or longer."
The hearing grew testy at times over the issue of the impact of the oil on gasoline prices and whether drilling in ANWR would result in significant environmental damage.
"Drilling in the Arctic Refuge is and always will be a political hot potato that has been voted on 20 times in the past 30 years, in the House of Representatives alone," Gene Karpinski, chairman of the League of Conservation Voters, testified. "Over and over again, pro-drilling members of Congress have trotted out our nation's last great wilderness place as a panacea for everything from the budget deficit and high unemployment to providing heat for the poor, relief to hurricane ravaged states, support for our troops and health benefits to coal workers."
Karpinski's testimony drew sharp response from Hastings.
"No one's talking about destroying ANWR, by any stretch of the imagination," Hastings said.
Hastings has recommended opening the coastal portion of ANWR to drilling as part of a plan to cut the federal deficit by $1.5 trillion. Markey said he would exercise the right of minority members to schedule a second round of testimony highlighting alternative deficit reduction plans.
--Gary Gentile, email@example.com