When introducing his first budget on Monday, President Trump revived a long-dormant political issue: The future of the oil underneath the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

ANWR, as it's abbreviated, is a 19-million acre piece of wilderness in the northeastern corner of Alaska. Environmentalists value it for its migratory birds, caribou and other wildlife. The energy industry values it for the estimated billions of barrels of domestic oil beneath it.

For decades, industry and environmental lobbyists -- and their allies in Congress -- have tussled over the fate of the refuge. Trump's budget proposal pitches the sale of oil and gas leases in ANWR as one of several measures designed to balance the budget over the next 10 years (a goal that is, according to my colleague Max Ehrenfreund, an unlikely bet). 

Trump is not the first Republican leader to attempt to open up ANWR since the 1980s, when Congress requested the Department of Interior review the energy prospects of the refuge and punted the issue to a future legislative session. Yet each failed effort demonstrated what a difficult political nut ANWR is to crack for the GOP. 

If the Arctic refuge is again to become a political hot potato, it's useful to look back at GOP efforts to open ANWR to drilling -- and how each of those efforts failed.

Here we go:

1989: Congress took up the issue of ANWR after the Interior Department under President Reagan officially recommended two years earlier that the refuge be opened to drilling. In March of that year, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee passed a pro-drilling bill.

What happened? A few days later, the Exxon Valdez ran aground in Prince William Sound. The ship spilled roughly 11 million gallons of crude oil pumped from Alaska's North Slope, to the west of ANWR. Any chance to allow drillers into the refuge was lost with it. 

1995: In the 1990s, then-Sen. Frank Murkowski (R-Alaska) maneuvered to get pro-drilling legislation through the Senate by introducing, unsuccessfully, amendments to a defense authorization bill and to a budget package. But in 1995, with majorities in both the House and Senate for the first time in four decades, Republicans added language opening ANWR to drilling to the budget package, which under Senate rules could not be filibustered by Democrats.

What happened? The language could be (and indeed was) vetoed by then-President Clinton when the budget was sent to his desk.

2005: By this year, Republicans again had control of both chambers of Congress -- and, importantly, the White House too. Again using a budget resolution, the Senate, led by Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), passed a budget measure that opened the Arctic refuge to drillers.

What happened? A group of moderate House Republicans, seeing ANWR as a litmus test on the environment, stripped the pro-drilling language from their own version of the budget. Undeterred, Stevens attached a pro-drilling amendment to a defense authorization bill. But that bill failed to break a Democratic filibuster, and died in the Senate.

Now in 2017, the Alaskan senator leading the charge to develop the oil and gas fields is Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Frank's daughterIn a statement on Trump's budget on Monday, the senator said: "I am particularly pleased to see a proposal for energy production from the non-wilderness 1002 area," as the oil-rich portion of the refuge is sometimes called, "and continued investments in Alaska’s defense infrastructure, which will improve Alaska’s economy and strengthen our national security." In the past, she and Dan Sullivan (R), the state's other senator, have introduced their own legislation to produce energy in ANWR.

What's different in 2017: There is no Democratic president, no strong coalition of moderate House Republicans or (most likely) no looming oil spill that will trip up a budget resolution. But even with a favorable climate for drilling advocates, the procedural hurdles in the Senate are steep.

If a budget resolution with a pro-drilling amendment garners simple majorities in the House and Senate, it still does not carry the force of law. The measure would have to go through the appropriations process, where it will be subject to a 60-vote threshold -- a high bar it's unlikely to meet. Nonetheless, it's possible that opening up ANWR will surmount the first hurdle -- the budget resolution, if it is acted upon -- and create some politically uncomfortable votes for a few Republicans headed into the 2018 midterms.

Or Mitch McConnell and other GOP leaders would have to choose to use the budget reconciliation process for ANWR drilling. But that would likely mean prioritizing it over agenda items like health care and tax reform that are much higher on the GOP wish list.

Nonetheless, environmentalists, pointing to polling that shows that two-thirds of voters oppose Arctic Refuge drilling, are gearing up for another fight.

"We’ve done this before and we’ll do that again," Lydia Weiss, government relations director for lands at The Wilderness Society, told me.


-- During Trump's visit to the Vatican today, Pope Francis gave the president a copy of his 2015 letter to Catholics on their need to combat climate change.


"Well, I'll be reading them," Trump told Francis, according to Reuters, referring to the encyclical. With the gift, Francis becomes yet another European leader leaning on Trump to stay in the Paris climate agreement.

Here's a video showing the Trump meeting with the Pope:

-- BROWN V. PRUITT: The New York Times reports: "The environmental ministers of Canada and Mexico went to San Francisco last month to sign a global pact — drafted largely by California — to lower planet-warming greenhouse pollution. Gov. Jerry Brown flies to China next month to meet with climate leaders there on a campaign to curb global warming. And a battery of state lawyers is preparing to battle any attempt by Washington to weaken California’s automobile pollution emission standards. As President Trump moves to reverse the Obama administration’s policies on climate change, California is emerging as the nation’s de facto negotiator with the world on the environment. The state is pushing back on everything from White House efforts to roll back pollution rules on tailpipes and smokestacks, to plans to withdraw or weaken the United States’ commitments under the Paris climate change accord."

Pruitt's guiding federalism -- that states should control their own environmental regulations with minimal federal oversight -- seems to end when California tries to engage those beyond its borders on greenhouse gas reductions.

In one of his only interviews with non-right-wing publication, Pruitt tells the Times: "Is it federalism to impose your policy on other states? It seems to me that Mr. Brown is being the aggressor here. But we expect the law will show this.”


-- On Monday, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) sent a letter to Scott Pruitt, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, to ask why industry representatives were not invited to a scientific integrity meeting at the EPA.

Smith, who chairs the House Science Committee, wrote: "We can think of no scientific or policy-based rationale for limiting invitations to a meeting on EPA Scientific Integrity to a relatively small number of individuals and organizations whose overall mix skews decidedly toward pro-regulation environmental activism." Smith pointed out that while the Union of Concerned Scientists and Natural Resources Defense Council were invited, groups like the American Petroleum Institute were not. (Smith's office said it was aware of only one industry group, the American Chemistry Council, that was invited.)

The purpose of the meeting, scheduled for June 14, is for the EPA to get feedback from outside organizations as it prepares an annual report that describes actions taken by the agency to enforce its scientific integrity policies. Michael Halpern, deputy director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, attempted to one-up Smith and called for even more transparency for EPA meetings. He wrote in a blog post

I’d like to know who from the chemical industry met or communicated with the EPA in advance of Administrator Pruitt’s decision to reject scientific advice and keep a dangerous pesticide on the market that has been shown to hurt endangered species and harm human brain development... I’d like many more EPA meetings to be made open to the public.

Another meeting the environmental community would probably be interested in: This one Pruitt had with the Congressional Coal Caucus earlier this week.

-- TRUMP TAKES OUT THE SCISSORSThe Environmental Protection Agency was dealt the biggest blow in Trump's budget proposal, but other parts of Obama's environmental legacy have been targeted too. 

Here are some of Trump's proposals for the Energy Department:

-Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy: 69 percent cut. Chris Mooney reports: "When it comes to the renewable energy office, the Department explained that the changes marked a 'shift away from later-stage development and deployment activities and the increased focus on early-stage R&D' — a realignment that some energy policy scholars have criticized, arguing that in the energy sphere, it’s also critical to invest in later stage projects in order to aid their commercial realization."

-Fossil Energy Research and Development Program: 56 percent cutMooney reports: "Within that, funding for research on carbon capture and carbon storage, which could allow for the burning of coal without such a heavy burden of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, would shrink to just $31 million from $206.6 million in the prior year..."

-And the coup de grâce: Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy: 93 percent cut. Created with bipartisan support under President George W. Bush and modeled after DARPA, ARPA-E aggressively funded clean energy startups under Obama.

The Interior Department was not spared either. Brady Dennis reports: "The White House wants to cut the Interior Department budget by about 12 percent as the Trump administration shifts the agency’s focus toward promoting fossil fuel drilling and extraction on public lands and in federal waters. The budget proposal released Tuesday would reduce Interior’s funding to $11.6 billion in fiscal 2018 — about $1.6 billion less annually — and eliminate programs that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has called unnecessary, duplicative or a low priority. Among them: discretionary grants to help reclaim abandoned mine sites, National Heritage areas that Trump administration officials say are more appropriately funded locally and National Wildlife Refuge payments to local governments."

Republicans also went after a favorite punching bag in citing "The Great Immensity," a now defunct-musical about climate change, which seven years ago won a government grant:

A review called the musical 'The Great Immensity' witty and unwieldy. Conservative media and politicians love to hate it.
Ben Guarino
The Trump administration said it’s considering repealing major parts of an Obama administration regulation to limit methane pollution from municipal landfills.
The Hill
The government's failure to end climate change violates children's constitutional rights, a lawsuit argues.
Sophie Yeo
The automaker rejects U.S. allegations that it skirted pollution rules.
Thomas Heath


  • Committees in both chambers of Congress will meet to discuss the Trump administration’s budget proposal, which recommends $3.6 trillion in government spending cuts over the next ten years, including to the EPA.
  • The Senate’s Armed Services Committee will also meet to discuss the Department of Energy’s “atomic energy defense activities and programs.”
  •  The House Committee on Natural Resources will convene twice to consider “federal natural resources laws gone astray” and the Community Reclamation Partnerships Act, which would allow public and private entities to jointly restore water and land sources that have been negatively impacted by coal mining.

Coming up:

  • Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s former congressional seat will be filled by a Thursday special election in Montana.
  • Dan Brouillette’s nomination to become deputy energy secretary, as well as two nominations for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, will be considered by the Senate on Thursday.

See Pope Francis ask Melania what she feeds Donald:

Here's a breakdown of three big cuts in the Trump budget:

Stephen Colbert has an opinion about the budget, too: