U.S. Senate starts hearing on opening ANWR for drilling

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WASHINGTON (KTUU) - Alaskan leaders, both cultural and political, assembled in Washington on Thursday morning to hear arguments both for and against the potential opening up of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, better known as ANWR, for oil and gas development.

The U.S. Senate committee on energy and natural resources, which is chaired by Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, began taking comments by advocates on both sides of the ANWR debate. That hearing can be viewed live on the committee's website.

On that website, full PDFs are available which comprise the commentary from the members of the witness panels:

Witness Panel 1
Sen. Dan Sullivan
Rep. Don Young
Gov. Bill Walker (full statement here)

Witness Panel 2
Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott (full statement here)
Greg Sheehan Deputy Director with Fish & Wildlife (full statement here)
Samuel Alexander Tribal Member with Gwichyaa Zhee Gwich’in Tribal Government (full statement here)
Matthew Rexford Tribal Administrator with Native Village of Kaktovik (full statement here)

Witness Panel 3
Aaron Schutt President and CEO with Doyon, Ltd. (full statement here)
Lois Epstein Program Director with The Wilderness Society (full statement here)
Richard Glenn Vice President with Arctic Slope Regional Corporation (full statement here)
Pat Pourchot former assistant to the Secretary of the Interior for Alaska Affairs, Anchorage (full statement here)
Matthew Cronin biologist with Animal Genetics, University of Alaska Fairbanks

The first panel which responded to the committee were Alaskan lawmakers Sen. Dan Sullivan, Rep. Don Young, and Gov. Bill Walker. All three, as they have previously done, testified to the benefits that opening ANWR for drilling would present for both the state of Alaska, and for the government. Through questioning from the committee, the three alternately provided arguments in favor of drilling.

Walker stated that, while he recently signed an order on climate change and agrees that Alaska has felt the effect of climate change significantly, the only path forward to combat this real hazard is to raise funds and resources. Sen. Al Franken later rebuked this position, asking, "We are trying to drill more, create more pollutants, to then address climate change? Do you not see the irony in that?"

The second panel responding to the committee was comprised of Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott, Greg Sheehan with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Samuel Alexander with the Gwichyaa Zhee Gwich'in Tribal Government, and Matthew Rexford, administrator with the Native Village of Kaktovik. It was not until the second panel that any real opposition to the development of ANWR was introduced.

"We think of this place as the heart of the refuge," Alexander said, arguing against drilling. When Sen. Bernie Sanders asked him if the opening of ANWR would be a problem for their tribe, Alexander said, "Mr. Sanders, we believe that drilling there will absolutely devastate us as a people."