The Money Behind the Debate Over Drilling in ANWR

The oil and gas industry has contributed $179.7 million since 1989 to federal candidates and political parties, 74 percent to Republicans.

Published: 19-Mar-2005

r years of trying, Senate Republicans on Wednesday succeeded in easing the path to opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling, a development that promises to intensify a decades-old lobbying battle as proponents of drilling move into the homestretch of their effort.

The Senate defeated by 51 to 49 an attempt to remove from the 2006 budget resolution a provision that would open ANWR to drilling. By including the provision in the budget bill, Republican leaders have avoided the threat of a Democratic-led filibuster.

Opponents of drilling will have another chance to defeat the proposal after House and Senate leaders meet to resolve differences in their respective budget resolutions, or later when committees in both chambers decide the details for drilling in ANWR.

But Democratic and Republican lawmakers have acknowledged in public statements that supporters of drilling have a better chance than ever of success, setting up a dramatic last-ditch lobbying effort on both sides of the debate.

Oil companies are hoping their considerable political clout, built up over years of generous campaign giving and lobbying, will put drilling in ANWR over the top. The oil and gas industry has contributed $179.7 million since 1989 to federal candidates and political parties, 74 percent to Republicans.

Two oil companies, ChevronTexaco and Exxon Mobil, rank among the top all-time campaign contributors. ChevronTexaco has contributed $8.9 million since 1989 in individual, PAC and soft money donations, 75 percent to Republicans. The company, the second largest oil producer in the country, has spent more than $38 million since 1997 to lobby Congress and the federal government. Exxon Mobil, one of the world’s largest oil producers, has contributed $8.2 million since 1989 in individual, PAC and soft money donations, 87 percent to Republicans. The company has spent more than $62 million on lobbying since 1997.

Exxon Mobil is a member of Arctic Power, which bills itself as a grassroots, non-profit organization endorsed by the Alaska legislature that has been at the forefront of the ANWR drilling issue since 1992. The organization, which includes among its 10,000 members the Alaska Chamber of Commerce and state oil and gas associations, contends on its Web site that drilling could create as many as 736,000 jobs. Artic Power has spent $1.7 million on federal lobbying since 1997.

An Arctic Power representative could not be reached for comment.

ChevronTexaco was once a member of Arctic Power, but the company withdrew its financial support of the group several years ago, according to The New York Times So did oil giants ConocoPhillips and BP, which said they preferred to sit out the contentious political debate on drilling in ANWR, the Anchorage Daily News reported. However, neither company stated its opposition to drilling.

The promise of new job creation has brought the International Brotherhood of Teamsters into an unusual alliance with oil companies on the subject of ANWR. The Teamsters, which have openly opposed many of Bush’s policies, broke from the heavily Democratic labor movement to support drilling.

The Teamsters are among the nation’s largest campaign donors, having contributed $21.9 million since 1989 in individual, PAC and soft money donations, 93 percent to Democrats. The union has spent $7.7 million on lobbying since 1997.

Mike Mathis, director of government affairs for the Teamsters, said the union has sent representatives to lobby new GOP members and lawmakers from labor-heavy states such as Pennsylvania. He added that the union is working to "firm up as many Democrats as we can."

Mathis said the Teamsters have been working with Sen. Ted Stevens, an Alaska Republican who has long supported drilling. Teamsters members in Alaska also have been coordinating with Arctic Power. The union has not contributed money to the group, as it did a few years ago, but it would do so if "there was a need," Mathis said.

Oil and gas companies have contributed $368,000 in individual and PAC contributions to Stevens since 1989, more than any other industry.

Other Alaska officials have struck it big from the industry as well.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R), who won a tight election last year, raised $195,000 from the industry in the 2004 election cycle alone, enough for a No. 10 ranking among all federal candidates. Alaska’s lone representative in the House, Don Young (R), has raised $874,000 from oil and gas interests since 1989, more than from any other industry. Murkowski and Young both support ANWR drilling.

The 19.6-million acre refuge was established in 1960 and expanded by President Jimmy Carter in 1980 under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. Administration officials have estimated that 10 billion barrels could be housed within in a 1.5-million acre slice of ANWR known as the coastal plain.

Republicans have long touted drilling in ANWR as a means to reducing U.S. dependency on foreign energy sources. Opponents argue that the oil yield would not make much of a dent in the country’s reliance on foreign oil and would wreck havoc on the environment.

Last week, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, a Washington-based watchdog that opposes drilling, mailed 600 copies of a documentary about the risks of oil extraction in ANWR to lawmakers, The New York Times reported. The group has spent $4.3 million on lobbying since 1997.

Despite the group's loss Wednesday, Athan Manuel, director of PIRG’s arctic wilderness campaign said it would continue to "make sure that our Republican champs are active, especially the moderates." Despite the group’s loss Wednesday, Athan Manuel, director of PIRG's arctic wilderness campaign said it would continue to "make sure that our Republican champs are active, especially the moderates." Seven GOP senators, including John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lincoln Chaffee (R-R.I.) opposed this week’s vote.

The Sierra Club has been running radio and television ads in opposition to drilling, according to the Times. The leading environmental group has spent $1.3 million on lobbying since 1997. It and other large environmental organizations have spent many millions more on grassroots efforts.

A number of smaller groups have entered the fray as well. The Alaska Wilderness League, a state environmental group that opposes drilling, has spent $440,000 on lobbying since 1997. Brian Moore, the League’s legislative director, said ANWR is the group’s highest priority, but as a "mom and pop operation" the group finds itself having to spend more carefully. The group has been running targeted advertisements in a number of congressional districts in conjunction with a loose coalition of 18 to 20 other environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, he said.

"We don’t do any lobbying where we take members out to dinner," Moore said. "We don’t have the money. That’s for gas companies. We try to work at the grassroots level. We’re not buying a page in The New York Times for $60,000."

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