U.S. Representative Jared Huffman speaks during the House Committee on Natural Resources on May 1 in Washington. Huffman is behind a bill called the Arctic Cultural and Coastal Plain Protection Act, which was approved 22 to 14 during the meeting. (Video screen grab)

U.S. bill seeking to shield ANWR from development approved by committee

The committee hearing was the last stage before the bill could go to the House of Representatives

A bill intended to thwart a legislated oil and gas program in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge sailed through a committee vote this week.

“This bill reflects a simple proposition, and that is there are some places too wild, too important, too special to be spoiled by oil and gas development,” said U.S. Representative Jared Huffman during the House Committee on Natural Resources on May 1. “The Arctic refuge coastal plain is one of those special places.”

The committee approved the bill, called the Arctic Cultural and Coastal Plain Protection Act, after a vote came in of 22 in favour, 14 against, according to a press release from Huffman’s office. This marks the last committee stage before arriving at the House of Representatives.

The Democrats have 235 seats in the House; Republicans have 197.

“I also want to make absolutely clear what this bill does,” Huffman continued, “which is simply restore the Arctic refuge to the status it had before the Republican tax cut bill of 2017. It doesn’t roll back oil and gas development elsewhere in the state, it doesn’t shutdown activities in the neighbouring national petroleum reserve, it does nothing to go after the existing jobs in oil and gas, it simply says you can’t expand into this one, special place, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.”

If it passes the House, the bill, introduced by Huffman in February, would go to the Senate. It will likely be an uphill battle there because it’s dominated by Republicans.

The bill seeks to repeal a provision inserted into the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that OK’d development in a parcel called the coastal plain.

It was last heard during a congressional subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources on March 26.

It currently has 139 co-sponsors.

Gwich’in leaders like Dana Tizya-Tramm, chief of Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation and Bernadette Demientieff, executive director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee, have thrown their weight behind the bill.

“It’s the first step in a very long fight, but it’s one the Gwich’in are willing to take,” said Demientieff, who attended the hearing this week in Washington. “We’re gonna have to ask a lot of our allies and our supporters throughout the country to call their representatives when the bill gets on the House floor.

“This is one of the last untouched ecosystems in the world and it’s in our home state. We should really protect these sacred sites.”

Cheryl Charlie, deputy chief of Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation, also attended the hearing.

She said she’s happy with the outcome.

“It was an honour to be present at the hearing. There’s a lot of hard work moving forward from here.

“It speaks to all of the collective hard work that has been put into this campaign from all organizations, including the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation.”

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

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