The acronym for the U.S.’s largest nationals wildlife refuge sounds like “a Middle Eastern country covered in sand,” New Mexico Sen. Martin Heinrich claimed Thursday in a hearing to discuss oil and gas exploration in Alaska.
The acronym for Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, or “ANWR,” is phonetically pronounced anwhar.
“ANWR to me sounds like a Middle Eastern country covered in sand where we should just develop lots of oil and gas,” said Heinrich, a Democrat.
The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources held a hearing Thursday to discuss opening up a small portion of ANWR to drilling, as part of a recently passed budget bill. That proposed region is called the “1002 area” and makes up about 8 percent of the 19.2 million acre reserve.
The GOP wants to open up ANWR in order to raise $1 billion to offset some of the tax cuts lawmakers plan to push later in the year.
Congress specifically set aside the “1002 area” for oil and gas exploration. Alaska lawmakers and the GOP has been pushing for decades to open the area to drilling. ANWR is estimated to hold 8 billion barrels in the 1.5 million acres set aside for potential oil and gas exploitation.
Democrats and environmentalists say drilling could harm the caribou native to the region, which Alaskan tribes depend on for their livelihoods. Heinrich opposes opening ANWR to drilling.
“They don’t talk about a refuge,” said Heinrich, referring to how GOP and Interior Department officials talk about ANWR, as opposed to Alaskan tribal members from the region.
Sam Alexander, a military veteran and member of Gwich’in Nation in Alaska, opposes opening the “1002 area” to drilling.
“The opening of the Refuge to oil development and subsequent decline of the Porcupine Caribou herd will limit our access to healthy traditional food and push us from food security into the realm of food insecurity,” Alexander told lawmakers during the hearing Thursday.
“No amount of money can replicate our healthy traditional diet,” he said.
Matthew Rexford, president of Kaktovik Iñupiat Corporation in Alaska, however, supports drilling in ANWR. Rexford’s village of Kaktovik is located inside the “1002 area” where drilling would occur.
Rexford’s tribe has “fought unsuccessfully to open the 1002 area to drilling, which literally requires an act of Congress,” he said.
“The Arctic Iñupiat will not become conservation refugees,” Rexford said, citing the need for economic activity in the region.
Heinrich’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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