Oil Drilling in Alaska Refuge Hits Snag Over Budget Protocol

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A bid to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling faces a hold up over an arcane budget rule, a development that may mean it can’t be included in the tax overhaul legislation.

Senate Democrats objected to the provision opening the Alaska’s pristine coastal plain to oil drilling, saying measures to fast-track environmental approvals violate the so-called Byrd rule, according to congressional aides. That rule, named after former West Virginia Democratic Senator Robert Byrd, is designed to limit budget procedures to provisions that are mainly fiscal in nature.

While its fate is unclear, stripping out that measure would be a blow to Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski, a key swing vote and champion of Arctic drilling. 

The Senate parliamentarian ruled the ANWR provision, as now written, can be subject to a point of order which would require 60 votes to waive -- enough for Democrats to block it -- a Senate Democratic aide said. Republicans are working with the parliamentarian and others to try to find a way around it.

The estimated $1.1 billion in federal revenue expected from drilling in Alaska’s northeast coast over the next decade will help offset the tax cuts proposed in the bill.

In a statement, Murkowski, the chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said she planned to vote in favor of the legislation, an indication she thought the procedural hangup over the drilling provision could be resolved. 

"We still have work to do on this legislation and I look forward to the debate on the Senate floor and my colleagues’ ideas to further improve it," Murkowski said.

— With assistance by Jennifer A Dlouhy

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