Congressman Jared Huffman, a California Democrat, argues for a A bi-partisan bill that seeks to repeal the oil and gas program in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge at the House of Representatives in Washington on Sept. 12. The billed passed with 225 for and 193 against. (Video screen grab)

Bill seeking to protect ANWR passes U.S. House of Representatives

It’s cause for tempered celebration, said a member of Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation

A bi-partisan bill that seeks to repeal the oil and gas program in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has passed the House of Representatives.

“This is a big victory for us,” Melissa Frost, a citizen of Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation, told the News. “This is a historic bill. After two generations we finally have a piece of legislation that can move us in the right direction towards permanently protecting the Arctic refuge and keeping oil development from encroaching on our sacred lands.”

The final vote came in at 225-193 on Sept. 12, with Democrats overwhelmingly in favour (four Republicans voted yes.)

Frost, who was in Washington D.C. for the debate and vote, said Gwich’in youth from Alaska were in Washington for the event.

“It gives them hope, as well, knowing that after so long there is a possibility that we can continue our life as Gwich’in people on the land,” she said.

The bill will go to the Senate next, which is dominated by Republicans.

Congressman Jared Huffman, a California Democrat, introduced the proposed legislation in February. There are currently 182 co-sponsors.

Before the debate in the House, he said that “there are some places that are simply too important, too special, too sacred to be spoiled by oil and gas development.

“The question before us is will the federal government protect this special place and the communities that depend on it, or will our federal government be responsible for its destruction by auctioning it off to big oil?”

In a barb at colleagues across the floor — likely Alaskan Republican Don Young, for instance, a staunch proponent of oil and gas development in the refuge — Huffman said they will try to convince the House that industry can, and will, be pulled off responsibly in the refuge.

“They’ll ask us to trust a president who, armed with a Sharpie, overrules scientists and threatens the jobs of scientists when they speak out.”

Young said development in the refuge has been argued about for 40 years.

“Now we’ve got a sponsor from California that doesn’t know beans about this business, talking about big oil and about Trump,” he said. “This has been a policy of this nation to allow drilling there if the congress spoke and we did so, under the tax bill, yes.”

A rider inserted into the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act OK’d development in a parcel of the refuge called the coastal plain.

Huffman reiterated that his bill is simple — its main job is to prevent this from happening.

U.S. legislation stipulates that one lease must be issued in four years and that no fewer than two lease sales, each to include at least 400,000 acres with the highest potential of hydrocarbons, must occur by 2024.

The final environmental impact statement was released the same day Huffman’s bill passed the House. The U.S. Department of the Interior wants to lease out the entire coastal plain — roughly 1.6 million acres.

“It just shows you the type of people we’re up against,” said Bernadette Demientieff, executive director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee.

Contact Julien Gignac at julien.gignac@yukon-news.com

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