Political opponents of opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling emphasize the environmental risks of such an endeavor. Allowing fossil-fuel development in a long-contested 1.5 million-acre patch of the refuge, opponents say, would disrupt the area's wildlife, in particular the caribou that give birth within the proposed drilling site.
As Republicans may soon learn, however, there is political risk to the legislative push to drill there — one that could bore a hole into the GOP’s biggest legislative goal after the failure to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.
On Friday, Senate Republicans took their first legislative step to allowing drilling in ANWR.
A draft measure from the Senate Budget Committee instructs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to find a way of generating an additional $1 billion in revenue. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) chairs that committee — and is widely expected to identify allowing the extraction and sale of the oil under ANWR as a method of raising that revenue.
That legislative maneuver allows Senate Republicans to approve drilling in the Arctic refuge with a simple majority rather than the 60 votes needed to overcome a Democratic filibuster.
“This provides an excellent opportunity for our committee to raise $1 billion in federal revenues while creating jobs and strengthening our nation’s long-term energy security,” Murkowski said in a statement Friday, without explicitly mentioning ANWR. “I am confident that our committee is prepared to meet the instruction in this resolution.”
Republicans have been down this road before: In 1995, a GOP-controlled Congress passed a budget allowing refuge drilling — but the measure was vetoed by President Bill Clinton.
With Republicans in control of both Congress and the White House, a presidential veto is no longer a hurdle. Indeed, Trump's Interior Department in September lifted restrictions on seismic studies to access how much oil is under the refuge.
"The road to energy dominance goes through Alaska," Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said in a speech at the Heritage Foundation on Friday.
But with only a 52-member Republican majority, passage through that Senate is the narrower needle to thread. Nonetheless, it's not clear whether all Senate Republicans would support the change, which would then have to be approved by the more conservative House. In July, the House included similar ANWR instructions in its own appropriations bill.
Inserting such a political hot potato into the already controversial tax debate will not help win the votes necessary for the much bigger GOP goal of passing a tax code overhaul. Senate Republicans will also attempt to rewrite the tax code through the budget process to avoid a Democratic filibuster.
President Trump is making the hard sell on Democrats in case he needs them to help get a tax rewrite across the finish line — especially if hard-line Republicans peel away as they did during the Obamacare repeal effort. Last month, Trump and Vice President Pence had three Democrats — Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.) and Joe Donnelly (Ind.) — over to the White House for dinner to chew over taxes.
However, the prospect of Arctic drilling may be a step too far for some moderate Democrats and Republicans otherwise inclined to pass a tax-slashing package. Already some Senate Democrats, such as Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) are signaling that Arctic refuge drilling is a “poison pill.”
“By releasing a budget today that sets the stage for attaching drilling in the Arctic Refuge to the Republican attempts to fast track a tax package,” Markey wrote in a statement, “they have shown that they have learned none of the lessons of the Trumpcare failures.”
Similarly, Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), the top Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee who is working with Murkowski on a bipartisan energy bill, said in a statement that she would “fight tooth and nail” against the Arctic drilling proposal that Murkowski backs.
Manchin and Heitkamp, who like Murkowski are both from fossil-fuel states, may not balk at the refuge-drilling measure. But two current Senate Republicans did during a 2005 vote — John McCain (Ariz.) and Susan Collins (Maine).
“If they were already struggling with passing health care with 50 votes,” said Jonathan Asher, a senior representative for government relations at the Wilderness Society, which opposes ANWR drilling, “why would they throw in something that might scare away moderates on both sides of the aisle?”
Reality check: This is likely to be one of many skirmishes over the upcoming tax package. If opening up ANWR to drilling proves too controversial among Republicans, there is always the possibility of dropping it from tax talks. But then, they would need to find other sources of revenue to prevent the tax overhaul from busting the deficit.
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-- Zinke at the Heritage Foundation: Zinke weighed in on a number of issues during his Friday speech at the conservative think tank.
- “A little B.S.:" One day after Politico reported that Zinke was another on the list of Cabinet secretary’s taking chartered flights, and hours before Tom Price resigned from Health and Human Services secretary, Zinke said, “I’d just like to address, in the words of General Schwarzkopf, 'a little BS' on travel." He continued: “All this travel was done only after department officials determined no other flights were available… Every time I travel, I submit travel plans to the department, [which] determines line by line that I follow the law. And I follow the law.”
- "Not kneel to anyone:" Zinke touched on the controversy around the national anthem protests during NFL game, recently revived by his boss. “Our decisions will be guided by our flag and not kneel to anyone," Zinke said.
- "For the benefit of our people:" Zinke reemphasized the Trump administration's position on an issue that has divided conservatives — whether or not to sell off public lands. "I don’t believe our public lands should be sold or transferred," he said. "I do believe our public lands are for the benefit of our people."
More on the flights: The White House on Friday looked to crack down on government officials' use of chartered flights with a memo from budget chief Mick Mulvaney saying "the commercial air system used by millions of Americans every day is appropriate, even for very senior officials,” with few exceptions.
The memo also said that travel must be preapproved by White House Chief of Staff John Kelly for any aircraft that is “government-owned, rented, leased, or charted, except space-available travel and travel to meet mission requirements,” CNN reported.
-- Meanwhile, Interior's Office of Inspector General is looking into Zinke's flying habits. With that and another recently launched probe into whether officials acted inappropriately when they abruptly reassigned dozens of senior workers, it looks like they're keeping busy.
Seven reactions to Trump’s criticism of San Juan’s mayor:
HURRICANE MARIA NOW A POLITICAL HEADACHE:
-- 24 tweets: Over the weekend, President Trump said a lot about the continued criticism of his response to Puerto Rico's recovery from Hurricane Maria with two dozen messages on Twitter. He personally targeted San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz. Incredibly, he wrote that Puerto Ricans — who, again, have just been hit by a hurricane — "want everything to be done for them:"
The Mayor of San Juan, who was very complimentary only a few days ago, has now been told by the Democrats that you must be nasty to Trump.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 30, 2017
...Such poor leadership ability by the Mayor of San Juan, and others in Puerto Rico, who are not able to get their workers to help. They....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 30, 2017
...want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort. 10,000 Federal workers now on Island doing a fantastic job.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 30, 2017
The Post’s Aaron Blake writes that anyone who was surprised by Trump's tweets must have a short memory, and notes that by repeating past patterns, the president revealed he “doesn’t quite grasp what a crisis Puerto Rico is -- both for its people and for him.”
-- “Politically motivated ingrates:" San Juan Mayor Cruz avoided directly criticizing Trump in an interview with ABC’s “This Week,” though she praised FEMA and said she would be willing to meet with the president, The Post’s Kelsey Snell writes. While Cruz spoke, the president was already unleashing another set of tweets, defending FEMA and calling critics “politically motivated ingrates.”
FEMA administrator Brock Long also defended his agency’s work on ABC's "This Week" and slammed Cruz for a lack of presence at the joint field office. “She has been there once,” Long said. “This is an operation that has to take place all of the time.”
On the overall progress in the relief effort, Long said the Puerto Ricans are “pulling their weight” but later added there’s a “long way to go.”
Watch Long's interview below:
-- But the must-read Puerto Rico response story comes from The Post’s Abby Phillip, Ed O’Keefe, Nick Miroff and Damian Paletta. One day after Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico, Trump traveled to his private golf club in New Jersey:
"Trump did hold a meeting at his golf club that Friday with half a dozen Cabinet officials — including acting Homeland Security secretary Elaine Duke, who oversees disaster response — but the gathering was to discuss his new travel ban, not the hurricane," they report. "Duke and Trump spoke briefly about Puerto Rico but did not talk again until Tuesday, an administration official said."
That's three whole days that the president and the head of the department running FEMA did not speak.
-- Two big announcements from Perry: Energy Secretary Rick Perry made two big moves on Friday, both related to nuclear power:
1) The Energy Department announced it would provide $3.7 billion in loan guarantees to three Georgia utilities struggling to complete a pair of nuclear reactors at the Alvin W. Vogtle generating plant — in addition to $8.3 billion in loans the Energy Department has already given to the utilities’ project.
Why it matters: With the failure of a similar nuclear project in South Carolina, the Georgia project is the U.S. nuclear sector's last hope for a new power plant anytime in the foreseeable future.
What's next: Rich Powell, who runs the conservative ClearPath Foundation and praised Perry's announcement, told The Energy 202 that for the long-delayed Vogtle reactors to succeed, the Senate needs to act nowin addition to the Energy Department — mainly, by extending the deadline for a tax credit for advanced nuclear energy that has already passed the House.
2) DOE also asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, to adopt new regulations that would ensure coal and nuclear plants that add to the grid’s reliability can “[recover] fully allocated costs and thereby continue to provide the energy security on which our nation relies."
Why it matters: If FERC follows Perry's lead — still an "if" because FERC is independent — the new regulations could rewrite the rules for how power plants are compensated for their services. If Perry gets his way, power plants will be paid not just for the electricity they generate, but for the reliability they provide to the grid.
What's next: Trump has already installed two FERC commissioners on the 5-member body, with two more appointees on the way.
The big question now is how political the historically apolitical commission becomes. “For years, FERC has been relatively fuel-neutral, instead focusing on broader and successful approaches to reliability,” Dan Reicher, executive director of the Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance at Stanford, told The Energy 202. “The question is whether that era has ended and we’ll now see different commissioners representing different fuel camps.”
-- Mooving on methane: We know where most of the additional carbon dioxide in the atmosphere comes from — the burning of fossil fuels. But the source of the spike in atmospheric methane, the second-most potent greenhouse warming agent, is more of a mystery.
Now a new study from a now-Agriculture Department scientist, Julie Wolf, identifies cattle and other livestock for an uptick in methane, The Post's Chris Mooney writes.
What this means: The new research suggests that guidelines introduced by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2006 to estimate methane emissions needed to be updated.
Moreover, if the study results hold up, it might more federal attention needs to be paid toward reducing agricultural emissions — by altering the animals' diet or humans' own consumption and food waste habits.
The Women’s Council on Energy and the Environment holds an event on the Trump administration and federal lands.
The 2017 GEA GeoExpo continues.
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy will hold a hearing on various bills on Tuesday.
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee holds a hearing on Bruce J. Walker, to be assistant secretary of Energy for Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability and Steven E. Winberg to be an assistant secretary of Energy for Fossil Energy on Tuesday.
The House Natural Resources Committee holds a legislative hearing on Tuesday.
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee holds a hearing on energy storage technologies on Tuesday
The House Natural Resources Committee holds a legislative hearing on Wednesday
The House Natural Resources Committee holds a markup on Wednesday.
The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works will hold a hearing on Michael Dourson, Matthew Leopold, David Ross, and William Wehrum to be assistant administrators of the Environmental Protection Agency, and Jeffery Baran to be a member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy holds a hearing on “Defining reliability in a transforming electricity industry” on Tuesday
The 2017 Conservative Clean Energy Summit will be on Wednesday and Thursday.
The Environmental Law Institute holds an event on “How Agencies Reverse Policy” on Thursday.
The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy holds a hearing on “Consumer-oriented perspectives on improving the nation’s electricity markets” on Thursday..
Did President Trump add $33 million to Puerto Rico's debt by bankrupting a golf course there?
Trump says Puerto Rican leaders are "totally unable" to handle disaster:
San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz urges: "Save us from dying" :
How one city in Puerto Rico is surviving without water:
Isolated by Hurricane Maria, Utuado's residents seek help, and a way out:
Watch aerial views of damaged Guajataca dam in Puerto Rico:
The Sato Project is working to save feral dogs in Puerto Rico:
'SNL' takes on Trump's Puerto Rico response: