Republican Senate Energy Committee head: Congress may ignore most of Trump’s Interior Department budget cuts

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    Lisa MurkowskiMark Wilson/Getty Images

    President Trump should not expect much of his fiscal 2018 Interior Department budget to come to pass, the Republican head of the Senate energy committee said Tuesday.

    Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, chairwoman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said at a hearing to review Trump’s proposed 13 percent cut to the department that most of those cuts won’t “become reality,” especially those that target popular programs.

    At the same time, she said the “positives outweigh the negatives” in the budget plan, and indicated support for some of the budget’s more controversial policy proposals to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling, as well as offshore drilling in Alaska, which was put off limits by the Obama administration.

    “For every program that many of us will not support, there is another one that we can,” said Murkowski. “I haven’t been able to make that statement for quite a while. It’s good to be able to say it.”

    One “good example” where there will be broad opposition is on the administration’s proposal to end offshore revenue sharing with U.S. coastal states, said Murkowski. “Like most Alaskans, I want to expand revenue sharing, rather than end it. So frankly, I don’t see that proposal going anywhere,” she said.

    Revenue sharing is the process by which the federal government shares some portion of the royalties it collects from companies through mining and drilling leases on federal lands and offshore areas.

    But Murkowski said the budget’s “energy independence” priorities have her support, including a new five-year leasing program to restore access to Alaska’s offshore oil and gas resources, as well as looking to assess the non-wilderness portion of ANWR to “responsible production.”

    “I’ve been asked a couple of times in recent weeks, ‘why is now the right time to open up [that] area’ … ‘why it is so important’?” Murkowski said. “We are talking about a part of ANWR that Congress specifically set aside for oil and gas exploration.”

    alaska oil drillingUS Coast Guard/ReutersIt is a priority for Alaska, she said, because “we have the highest unemployment in the country … we have a dire state budget, we need more revenue,” while the world is projected “to need more oil,” she said. Murkowski said the area of the refuge is 1/1000th of the entire ANWR field.

    The top Democrat on the committee, Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash, said she will oppose any legislative proposal to open the refuge to drilling, which is what it would take to open up the area.

    She added that the 13 percent cut to the Interior Department budget from fiscal 2017 spending levels would be “damaging” to national parks, while placing the fossil fuel industry ahead of all other priorities.

    Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said there are bound to be some “tough” choices in passing this budget, but “this is what a balanced budget looks like.”

    He said the budget represents the starting point, not exactly the end product. Zinke also said that the drilling proposal for the Arctic refuge would require legislation for drilling to proceed. His mission, right now, is to assess the resource in order to inform Congress’ proposal to open up the refuge.

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