The Alaska Wilderness League is trying to shore up a legislative defence to ensure continued protection of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), says its executive director.
Cindy Shogan said from her office in Washington, D.C., this morning they have 37 U.S. senators willing to support a wilderness protection bill for the refuge.
With four more, or 41 of the 100 senators, they can filibuster any bill brought forward by the Republicans to open up ANWR for oil and gas exploration, she said.
Shogan explained the Republican majority in the Senate requires 60 senators of any stripe to stop a filibuster – the act of holding up legislation by talking it to death.
The wilderness league, she said, wants to secure the support from at least four more before the Senate breaks next month so that it can send a message to the next Congress that they’re ready to defend ANWR.
“We want to start the next Congress saying it is going to be tough to roll us,” she said. “We want to start the next Congress in a position of strength.”
Shogan said she’s guardedly optimistic they’ll reach the 41 senators they need.
With last week’s U.S. election, the Republicans gained control of the White House, and retained majorities in both the Senate and the House of Representatives that make up the U.S. Congress.
Having control of all three, Alaska’s Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski promised after her re-election last week that she will introduce legislation to open up the wildlife refuge.
The debate over ANWR has been on the sidelines since Democratic President Barack Obama took over the White House in January 2009.
In the wake of last week’s election, Vuntut Gwitchin Chief Bruce Charlie sent Lorraine Netro to Washington to lobby for protection alongside four other Gwitchin representatives from Alaska.
There is great fear that oil and gas exploration in the wildlife refuge and drilling on Alaska’s coastal plain would have a devastating impact on the Porcupine caribou herd. The coast plain serves as the caribou’s primary calving grounds. The debate over ANWR has been going on for decades.
Yukon MP Larry Bagnell said in an interview this morning he’s called on Canada’s ambassador to the U.S. and the Canadian embassy to do what they can.
It would be ideal if Obama were to designate the refuge as a national monument before leaving office in January, but it’s not likely a sitting-duck president would undertake such a bold step, he said.
As vice-chair of the Standing Committee of Parliamentarians of the Arctic Region, Bagnell hosted a meeting this week of elected representatives from across the circumpolar North, including Murkowski, who also chairs the U.S. Senate Energy Committee. (See separate story, p. 9.)
He said during a brief discussion with Murkowski, the senator did confirm she would be bringing forward legislation to open up the refuge at the earliest opportunity.
It’s likely the best chance to shut down any attempt to open up the refuge rests with the Senate and not the House of Representatives, Bagnell said.
He pointed out that in the U.S., senators don’t always vote along party lines, that you’ll have Republicans opposed to oil and gas exploration in the refuge and Democrats in favour.
The last time the debate over ANWR came to a vote in the mid-2000s before Obama was elected, the legislation was defeated in the Senate by just one or two votes, Bagnell recalled.
He said he’s also had a go-around over ANWR with Murkowski’s Republican father, Frank Murkowski, who represented Alaska in the Senate from 1981 to 2002 before leaving office to serve as the state’s governor. The senior Murkowski was also very much in favour of opening up the refuge, Bagnell said.
As is their right, U.S. senators who depart midway through their six-year terms can appoint a successor to take over until the next election.
Frank Murkowski appointed his daughter, who was sitting in the House of Representatives at the time. She was re-elected as senator in 2004, 2010 and again last week.
Following last week’s election, there are 54 Republicans in the Senate, 44 Democrats and two independents who caucus with the Democrats.
There are now 239 Republicans in the House of Representatives and 193 Democrats.