WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump made clear Tuesday that opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling is among his top priorities, with provisions included in his 2018 budget request.
The president's request, released in detail Tuesday, included a line detailing projected deficit reductions from federal oil and gas leasing in ANWR.
The proposed budget is only a request — Congress ultimately holds the purse strings and has shown an overall reluctance to implement many cuts proposed by the Trump administration.
But the ANWR provision demonstrates that opening the refuge to drilling is a priority for the administration, according to Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget.
The ANWR line item in the budget plan "is entirely consistent with, and in fact a central part of, the president's desire to be not only energy independent, but energy dominant. We want to dominate that space," Mulvaney said.
Noting "ripple effects" throughout the economy from increased drilling, Mulvaney said opening ANWR is "a critical part of what we're seeking to do, and it is a priority for the president."
The budget proposal said opening ANWR to leasing would decrease the federal deficit by $1.8 billion between 2018 and 2027. The Department of the Interior estimated the first lease sale would be in 2022 or 2023, according to its detailed budget proposal.
Mulvaney said he has not personally had discussions with the Senate but the White House legislative liaison team has done so regularly. As for the House, "I know Mr. Young but I have not had a chance to talk to him about the specifics," Mulvaney said of Alaska's sole congressman, Don Young.
"So we will expect to continue the negotiations with the Hill, with the House and the Senate, because the president is absolutely interested in opening up those areas," he said in an interview Tuesday.
The debate over opening ANWR to drilling has raged since 1980, when Congress and President Jimmy Carter set aside 500,000 acres of ANWR – less than 3 percent of its total acreage – for potential drilling. That part of ANWR is known as Area 1002, after a section of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.
Allowing drilling in the 1002 area would require an act of Congress. The Trump administration cannot open the area to drilling through the budget proposal, nor through a budget resolution passed by Congress. It requires its own legislation, Mulvaney said.
"But I will tell you that whenever we have anything that's germane to energy, to economic development, to anything that goes through the Senate that might be germane to this, we'll be pushing it," Mulvaney said.
The U.S. Geological Survey estimates ANWR could hold 10.4 billion barrels of technically recoverable oil, with a mean value of 7.7 billion barrels of oil available in the 1002 area.
The potential daily peak production of ANWR – 1.45 million barrels of oil per day – would be more than U.S. imports from Saudi Arabia, according to the House Natural Resources Committee.
Members of Alaska's all-Republican congressional delegation – Young and Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan – have been intensely supportive of opening ANWR for drilling.
But not all Alaskans are on board. Some Native, sportsman and environmental and tourism groups argue it could do major damage to wildlife populations, particularly to the calving grounds of the Porcupine caribou herd.
Opening ANWR to drilling "would destroy the dream – of hunting public lands that are wild and undeveloped – that is central to so many of us who are hunters," said Barry Whitehill, Fairbanks resident and board member for the Alaska Chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers.
"The Arctic refuge is one of our nation's most majestic places, home to the Porcupine caribou herd, musk oxen, wolves, imperiled polar bears, and nearly 200 species of migratory birds that migrate to six continents and all 50 states," said Kristen Miller, who heads the Alaska Wilderness League. "For 30 years, Congress has voted nearly 50 times on whether or not to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge."
"Opening up this iconic landscape to drilling wouldn't move the needle on our nation's energy needs but would cause irreversible damage to birds and one of the wildest places we have left on Earth," said David Yarnold, president of the Audubon Society. Yarnold pointed out the historic reluctance of both Republicans and Democrats in Congress to open up the refuge to drilling.