House Republican leaders this week released their budget plan, the first step in funding the federal government for the 2018 fiscal year.
Nowhere in the 63-page budgetary blueprint does it mention oil and gas development on lands in Alaska set aside for wildlife. Nor is the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), which oil and gas developers have long wished to plumb, cited anywhere in the legislative text itself.
But some environmentalists and Democrats say the budget proposal has the obvious fingerprints of those who want to expand Arctic drilling.
"This is hijacking the budgetary process,” said Lydia Weiss, director of government relations for lands at the Wilderness Society. “The budget reconciliation process requires only 50 votes because it’s not supposed to include thorny policy like this.”
The draft budget resolution before the House Budget Committee, they say, kick starts a Rube Goldberg machine-like series of parliamentary procedures that, unless derailed, would lead to the opening of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to drilling through only simple-majority votes in the House and Senate. The Budget committee plans to mark up and vote on the budget draft today.
Here’s how it works: In 1977, Congress asked the Interior Department to study potential drilling in a 1.5-million-acre coastal plain rich in oil in the ANWR.
After a decade of review, the Interior Department under President Reagan recommended drilling on the region, sometimes called the "1002 Area." All Congress had to do was give its go-ahead.
But for three decades, environmentally minded members of Congress (mostly Democrats, but several Republicans too) have successfully stymied that approval despite sustained efforts from Alaska’s congressional delegation to open ANWR to drillers.
Now a subtly worded section tucked into page 56 of the House GOP budget blueprint may bore the beginning of a path to drilling ANWR.
The House Budget Committee could instruct the House Natural Resources Committee to find a way of generating $5 billion in extra revenue over the next 10 years as part of the budget reconciliation. Unlike regular legislation passed by Congress, budget reconciliation cannot be filibustered by Democrats — meaning it can be passed with only 51 votes, or 50 votes with Vice President Pence breaking a tie.
Green groups fear that GOP lawmakers may turn to ANWR to raise that revenue, though no one has actually said that is the case. They point out that drilling there would yield roughly that same amount of money in additional receipts over 10 years if the oil and gas there were pumped and sold, according to a 2012 Congressional Budget Office analysis.
“The proposed budget is a direct attack on the crown jewel of our National Wildlife Refuge System and another clear attempt to sell out our federal public lands to Big Oil,” argued Jamie Rappaport Clark, president and chief executive of the Defenders of Wildlife.
The top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), shared that understanding of the budget language too, according to a press release.
“Republican thinking on energy and environmental protection froze in place during the Reagan administration, and today’s hearing and this budget are just more proof,” Grijalva said in a statement.
Opening ANWR to drilling is still a big "if:" Using the 2018 budget reconciliation process to give the thumbs-up to Arctic refuge drilling would mean placing it ahead of other GOP priorities. Opening ANWR has long been a top issue for Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), chair of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, but it’s unclear how important it is to other Republicans in Congress. To be fair, Trump's budget director, Mick Mulvaney, has said that drilling in the refuge is one of the administration's top priorities.
Other Arctic business on the docket: It is a curiously busy week for Alaskan issues in Congress. The House is scheduled to vote on a proposal to build an 11-mile gravel road through another protected area, the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge. Proponents want to connect the towns of King Cove and Cold Bay. Opponents worry the road will degrade wetland wilderness.
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-- The House voted 229-119 to pass a bill blocking an Obama-era rule on ozone pollution from taking effect.
The bill would do two things: Delay implementation of air-quality standards related to ozone, a smog-forming pollutant linked to lung and heart problems, from 2017 to 2025 and direct the Environmental Protection Agency to review ozone-emission rules every 10 years instead of every five years.
What supporters say: "My bill provides needed flexibility so that states and localities can adequately achieve new, lower standards with time for compliance," Rep. Pete Olson (R-Texas), a co-sponsor of the bill, said.
What detractors say: “This blatant disregard for public health is as shocking as it is dangerous," Mary Anne Hitt, director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, said.
-- White House efforts to deeply cut into funding for the Energy Department hit their first real roadblock on Tuesday. A Senate appropriations committee approved a $38.4 billion spending bill for federal energy and water programs — that’s $4.1 billion above President Trump’s request.
The politics: The DOE’s national labs are big employers in some key states, including Tennessee, home of Sen. Lamar Alexander (R), chairman of the Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee.
- The Senate version funds Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), which channels money to high-risk energy technology, at $330 million
- Trump's proposal for ARPA-E = $0
- The Senate version funds fossil-energy research at $573 million.
- Trump's version for fossil-energy = $280 million
- The Senate version funds nuclear-energy research at 917 million
- Trump version for the same = $703 million
-- In her confirmation hearing to become ambassador to the Vatican, Callista Gingrich cast President Trump as a protector of the environment. Trump "wants the United States to be an environmental leader," she said, according to the Associated Press. "But we are looking to increase the security of this country, to provide more jobs for Americans and to have better prosperity."
-- Dakota Access update: A new review of the Dakota Access pipeline’s environmental impact will likely take the rest of the year, U.S. officials said in court documents, according to the Associated Press. A federal judge said last month that he would later decide whether to shut down the pipeline pending the review, and the Texas-based pipeline developer Energy Transfer Partners has asked the judge to keep the pipeline open, citing $90 million a month in costs to the company if it shuts down.
-- Something to keep an eye on: The World Bank warns that the worldwide transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy will require more metal and rare-Earth element extraction. An uptick in mining operations will come with its own pollution problems.
The World Bank says, according to the Financial Times: "Simply put, a green technology future is materially intensive and, if not properly managed, could bely the efforts and policies of [resource] supplying countries to meet their objectives of meeting climate and related Sustainable Development Goals."
-- They found love in a hopeless place: The bodies of a Swiss couple who went missing for 75 years were found in a melting glacier in the Swiss Alps. The couple is believed to be Marcelin and Francine Dumoulin, who disappeared in August 1942 after going off to milk their cows. They left behind seven children.
“We spent our whole lives looking for them, without stopping. We thought that we could give them the funeral they deserved one day,” their youngest daughter told the Lausanne daily Le Matin, Reuters reported. “I can say that after 75 years of waiting this news gives me a deep sense of calm.”
-- Man, it's a hot one: The Post’s Capital Weather Gang took a look at a report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on the first half of 2017 being the second-warmest on record, with several graphics depicting the Earth’s temperature difference compared with the 20th-century average. So far, 2017 has been 1.64 degrees above the 20th century average. Here’s a look at the other warmest starts to the years:
- 2016 (1.93 degrees above average)
- 2017 (1.64 degrees above average)
- 2015 (1.55 degrees above average)
- 2010 (1.39 degrees above average)
- 2014 (1.30 degrees above average)
-- Why wasn’t Mark Zuckerberg allowed to meet with a government climate expert? Following a visit to North Dakota to learn more about the oil industry, Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg visited Glacier National Park last weekend to witness the shrinking glaciers in Montana’s northern Rockies due to climate change.
But Zuckerberg was not allowed to meet with one of the area's top climate scientists.
“I literally was told I would no longer be participating,” research ecologist Daniel Fagre, who works for the U.S. Geological Survey, told The Post's Lisa Rein. Fagre said he was "left in the dark" about why the briefing was canceled.
The change of plans was first reported by Mic, which reported that Fagre’s office was told that top Interior Department officials had “denied the climate scientist’s planned visit to the park.”
The Interior Department saw things differently: Heather Swift, a spokeswoman for Interior, the parent agency of the Geological Survey and the National Park Service, denied in a statement that a scheduled meeting with Zuckerberg was canceled.
“As with any celebrity appearance that might attract national attention, Mr. Zuckerberg’s visit to Glacier National Park was highlighted to the national offices,” Swift said, adding: “After reviewing the event proposal which was sent to the National Park Service, the NPS and Interior made a number of park officials available for the celebrity tour. He was given first-class treatment by the park rangers and had the opportunity to interact with a number of park officials and Gracie the ‘bark ranger’ during his visit which came at the height of the busy season.”
With or without a USGS scientist there to explain it to him, Zuckerberg wrote on Facebook after his visit that “the impact of climate change is very clear at Glacier.”
-- We know the name of Tropical Storm Don is just a coincidence, but still....
Hurricane center calls Tropical Storm Don “small” and ″not particularly well organized.” https://t.co/NDMq439r2V— AP Politics (@AP_Politics) July 18, 2017
National Weather Service releases first picture of Tropical Storm Don pic.twitter.com/ywAdlQFAmK— Richard Hine (@richardhine) July 17, 2017
- The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks holds legislative hearings.
- The Center for Strategic and International Studies holds an event on the Renewable Fuel Standard..
- The House Natural Resources Committee hold legislative hearings on five bills.
- The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will hold a hearing on the Hunting Heritage and Environmental Legacy Preservation for Wildlife Act.
- The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans will hold an oversight hearing on the Magnuson-Stevens Act.
- The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources will hold an oversight hearing on the future of hardrock mining on Thursday.
- The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee holds a nomination hearing on several Energy and Interior Department nominees on Thursday.
- The Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Fisheries, Water, and Wildlife will hold a hearing on water infrastructure on Thursday.
Late-night host Seth Meyers breaks down the changes at the EPA:
Washington reacts after the collapse of the Republican health-care bill:
Access to the Potomac River will be restricted when Trump is golfing nearby:
Watch a golden retriever save a drowning baby deer:
Simulation of T. rex reveals the dinosaur couldn't run:
Fans of 'goat yoga' move to a different bleat:
Al Gore talks to Stephen Colbert about "An Inconvenient Sequel:"