Phil Taylor, E&E reporter
Allowing drilling even in a small portion of the refuge is an environmentally reckless and fiscally questionable way to shore up revenue for the Highway Trust Fund, the lawmakers said yesterday in a letter to Boehner and the leaders of the Natural Resources and Transportation committees.
Moreover, the measure is controversial enough to doom the highway package if and when it makes it to the Senate, wrote Reps. Charles Bass of New Hampshire, Dave Reichert of Washington, Robert Dold and Timothy Johnson of Illinois, Nan Hayworth of New York and Michael Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania.
“Successfully passing a long-term transportation reauthorization bill that is fiscally responsible and provides the states the necessary resources to plan and invest in America’s future is a goal we all share,” they wrote.
But “given the challenges associated with the reopening of ANWR, we believe this transportation proposal will begin to merit greater support if the debate over funding mechanisms looks beyond future exploration.”
All six lawmakers have fairly moderate environmental records and are somewhat vulnerable in their re-election bids.
Their opposition to Arctic drilling illustrates the challenge House leaders face in recruiting enough GOP votes to pass the package next week when it comes up for a vote.
The “American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act” (H.R. 7) also faces criticism from conservative groups like Club for Growth and Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), who has questioned the reliability of using energy revenue pay-fors.
“Opening ANWR to drilling as a means to pay for the transportation bill is neither reasonable nor realistic,” said Bass, who did not indicate whether he planned to vote for the bill. “I urge leadership to remove this provision and instead work with members to find alternate sources of funding so we can move this transportation bill forward.”
According to the Congressional Budget Office, the bill to open the refuge for drilling would bring in $1.5 billion over the span of the bill, which is expected to need $40 billion to $50 billion to supplement the federal gas tax.
More than a dozen House Republicans voted against opening ANWR to drilling the last time the issue came up on the House floor. And four of the lawmakers who signed yesterday’s letter were not included in that vote.
But the last ANWR vote was also a procedural motion in a Democrat-led House. It proposed drilling the refuge on its own merits, not as a broader package.
Proponents of ANWR drilling say political winds, and voter expectations, have shifted. The energy and infrastructure package comes during an election year in which gas prices remain high and unemployment hovers around 8.5 percent.
Click here to read the letter.