The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is both a prime oil prospect and a northern Alaska stronghold of caribou and hundreds of other wildlife species that conservationists for decades have sought to protect.
The Senate on Thursday, in a 52-48 vote, rejected an amendment co-sponsored by Washington state U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell intended to keep the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge closed to oil development.
The refuge is both a prime oil prospect and a northern Alaska stronghold of caribou and hundreds of other wildlife species that conservationists for decades have sought to protect from oil development.
The amendment — if passed — would have stripped out language in a budget resolution that instructs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to raise an additional $1 billion in revenue over a decade. That money is expected to be generated through removing restrictions on refuge exploration.
The House already has approved budget instructions expected to result in a move to open the refuge to oil development. Any legislation allowing oil exploration is expected to be backed by President Donald Trump, who campaigned on increasing U.S. fossil-fuel production.
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In the Senate, Cantwell has long been a leading opponent of opening the refuge’s 1.5 million-acre coastal plain, and in years past helped to defeat attempts to launch exploration.
On Thursday, Cantwell, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, called the plain “one of the most pristine areas of the United States.” The United States doesn’t need the refuge oil, she said, and it should be the last place to drill.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the Republican chair of the committee, said that passing the amendment would deny the Senate a chance to do something constructive for the economy and for national security.