Administration won’t trade ANWR drilling for clean energy fund

March 19, 2013

The Obama administration is not willing to trade drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge for an agreement to establish a new fund to research cleaner automotive technology, one of the president's advisers said Tuesday.

Heather Zichal, deputy assistant to the president on energy and climate change, told reporters at the National Press Club that while the administration is committed to launching the Energy Security Trust Fund, it is also determined to keeping the iconic refuge off-limits to oil and gas exploration. Obama campaigned for the trust fund on Friday at the Energy Department's Argonne National Laboratory, saying that spending $2 billion in federal royalties from offshore oil and gas drilling on research into clean energy over the next decade could shift the nation's cars and trucks off oil.

"ANWR's off the table," Zichal said.

In her remarks before a panel organized by Securing America's Future Energy (SAFE), Zichal said the proposal "meets the president's three goals" when it comes to energy policy.

"It would help our economy, our security and our climate," she said.

Environmentalists such as Cindy Shogan, executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League, welcomed Zichal's comments.

“We are always thrilled to see the Obama administration reaffirm its support for protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge,” Shogan said.  “In fact, we hope they will do it one more time this month; before Interior Secretary Salazar leaves office, we urge him to finalize the land management plan for the Arctic Refuge and once and for all reverse the long-standing Bush administration’s position to drill.”

Still, some experts said the administration would likely have to sign off on some expanded oil drilling in order to get GOP support for its proposal. Council on Foreign Relations senior fellow for energy and the environment Michael A. Levi, who spoke on a panel right after Zichal made her remarks, wrote in an e-mail that there are a lot of ways to raise $200 million a year "and a lot of ways to spend it."

"What gives the Energy Security Trust a shot is the possibility of using it to align the incentives of stakeholders that are otherwise bitter adversaries," he added. "If you don't use it to do that, the odds of it becoming law fall sharply."

Robert Dillon, a spokesman for Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who has championed her own version of an energy trust fund, said in an interview that the senator could not support the president's plan without an accompanying proposal to expand oil and gas drilling.

"The issue here on the Energy Trust Fund is how you pay for it," Dillon said, adding that the refuge is not the one place that would have to be leased for drilling to make it work. "We’re not saying ANWR. There are plenty of other places."

Juliet Eilperin is a White House correspondent for The Washington Post, covering domestic and foreign policy as well as the culture of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. She is the author of two books—one on sharks, and another on Congress, not to be confused with each other—and has worked for the Post since 1998.
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Aaron Blake · March 19, 2013