Ads urge Stefanik ‘no’ vote on GOP tax bill

Oil drilling rider concerns environmentalists

U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik (Photo provided — Amanda Morrison, Watertown Daily Times)

Advertisements from the Wilderness Society are asking northern New York Congresswoman Elise Stefanik to vote “no” on the Republican tax bill passed by the Senate Budget Committee on Tuesday because of a provision in the bill for oil and gas drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The ads call for Stefanik, one of 13 Republicans who opposed the GOP bill, to again vote against it. That’s because a rider included on the bill, introduced by Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski and approved by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, would effectively repeal the state’s National Interest Lands Conservation Act, allowing for at least 800,000 acres in the 19 million acres of Arctic refuge to be drilled for oil and gas.

The rider was added after Congress passed the bill and was in the version the Senate Budget Committee passed after voting along party lines Tuesday afternoon. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will decide on a date for a full Senate vote, and if the bill passes then, a conference period will occur to hash out the differences between the House and Senate bills.

A spokesman for Stefanik, Tom Flanagin, said in an email that the congresswoman believes oil drilling in the refuge should be debated separately from the tax bill and that she is working on a formal request to the House leadership to remove the rider from the tax bill.

Alaskan Republicans have long wanted to lease the refuge land for oil drilling, but it requires a three-fifths Senate vote. The tax bill only requires a majority vote, so this rider is a win for Murkowski, who played a key role in rejecting the Republican health care plan and has not given clear support of the tax bill.

Earlier this month Murkowski said drilling would raise more than $1 billion over 10 years for the federal government and spark an Alaskan economy that has been in recession due to falling oil prices.

The rider would repeal Section 1003 of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, requiring the secretary of the interior to conduct at least two lease sales under an oil and gas program within the first 10 years, as well as creating provisions for up to 2,000 acres of land to be covered by production and support facilities, including airstrips and pipelines.

On the opposite end of Alaska’s Arctic territory is the National Petroleum Reserve Alaska, 22.8 million acres of land containing an estimated 895 million barrels of oil. It has been drilled since it was designated in 1923 by President Warren Harding. The federal Bureau of Land Management announced last month that it will hold an oil and gas lease sale next month of 10.3 million acres within the NPRA.

The Wilderness Society believes this reserve holds enough oil and drilling facilities on its own and that the ANWR should be spared the development and environmental cost that come with drilling.

“Balance constitutes having some places that are special and ecologically sensitive to not have drilling,” Wilderness Society Energy Communications Director Tony Iallonardo said.

“Congresswoman Stefanik supports an all-of-the above approach to energy production in the United States that increases American-made energy, reduces our dependency on foreign oil, protects the environment, and brings down energy costs for New Yorkers,” Flanagin wrote. “Additionally, she is a strong advocate for unleashing the power of renewable energy across the United States.”