JUNEAU — Two U.S. House Republicans on Friday said they plan to propose legislation to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling as a way to spur domestic energy production and create jobs.
House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings of Washington and Rep. Don Young of Alaska said in a release that the "Alaska Energy for American Jobs Act" will be part of a jobs bill recently announced by House Speaker John Boehner.
The Alaska measure would allow for oil and gas development on the refuge's coastal plain, a 1.5 million-acre stretch on ANWR's northern edge that's seen as having potential for development but also importance for wildlife. Hastings said in a news release that it would open less than 3 percent of the refuge's 19 million acres and produce billions of barrels of oil and generate billions of dollars in revenues.
Hastings' and Young's offices were closed Friday for Veterans' Day.
"Like all forms of energy production, development in ANWR would put tens of thousands of people to work and jumpstart our sluggish economy," Hastings said in the release. "An investment in America's energy security is an investment job creation and infrastructure projects that will benefit every American without job destroying tax increases."
But environmentalists say some of the figures used to tout the potential benefit of opening the refuge are exaggerated, and they see this as nothing more than the same push for drilling that's been made off and on for years.
"I think this legislation is dead on arrival," said Pamela Miller, Arctic program director for the Northern Alaska Environmental Center. She said it proposes a "false solution to a real crisis."
Lindsey Hajduk, a community organizer with Sierra Club Alaska, agreed, calling the connection to jobs "weak."
"The economy is hurting now, and they're talking about development that may happen in years, if not decades," she said.
Alaska's congressional delegation and governor have pushed for opening ANWR as a way to boost domestic production. Next month, the state plans a huge lease sale involving state lands and waters, with some of those leases adjacent to the federally controlled refuge.
While Congress would have to allow drilling in areas like the refuge, Alaska's Department of Natural Resources has said drilling on nearby state leases could allow developers to draw untapped oil from beneath the federal lands.
Young, in committee testimony earlier this year, said ANWR is believed to hold between 6- and 16-billion barrels of oil, with about 10 billion barrels estimated to be recoverable. Hajduk said she's seen estimates as low as 2 billion barrels.