Alaska’s congressional delegation hailed Wednesday’s historic passage of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, attached to a sweeping GOP tax-reform bill sent by a House vote to President Donald Trump’s desk for his signature.

Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, as well as Rep. Don Young, spoke with reporters minutes after the House’s 224-201 Wednesday vote resolved a snag from its initial passage of the bill Tuesday evening. The Senate quickly passed it as well later that night.

“This is a pretty historic day; it’s a big day for Alaska, it’s a big day for the country,” Murkowski said. “I think what we have seen out of the Senate and the House, soon to be signed by the president, is a bright day for Alaskans.”

Murkowski said Alaskans aren’t likely to see economic benefits from ANWR for at least a decade, as a lease sale in the refuge’s 1002 area is conducted and subsequent projects eventually bring oil to market. She said the 224-201 vote was the result of long-term groundwork laid by Young, along with the state’s previous senators – the late Ted Stevens as well as her father, Frank Murkowski, who first appointed her to his Senate seat after he was elected Alaska’s governor in 2002.

“You cannot recognize the achievement we made as a delegation, which is considerable, without acknowledging their achievements,” Murkowski said.

Drilling in the 1002 area was added to the tax bill in a provision authored by Murkowski. Both Murkowski and Young were on the conference committee which reconciled versions of the bill initially passed by the House and Senate.

Young, now the longest-serving House member, said that he had seen 14 attempts to pass ANWR drilling during his congressional career, but the only time it ever cleared Congress it was vetoed by President Clinton.

“The work these two senators put in for Alaska is awesome,” Young said.

Sullivan said that the delegation had spent long hours lobbying for the ANWR provision on Capitol Hill, giving a PowerPoint presentation on the proposal to “every senator that would listen to us.” He emphasized the sustained effort it took to get ANWR into the final bill sent to the president.

“For those of us watching the process part, as it pertains to ANWR, it took several nights,” Sullivan said. “Each gate, if it hadn’t gone through, it would have been over.”

The three Republicans blasted opposition to opening ANWR on environmental grounds from Democratic senators like Maria Cantwell of Washington and Ed Markey of Massachusetts, a faction Young referred to as the “kooky side” of the Senate. Murkowski cited the advent of directional drilling, which let wells reach a wider area from the same surface facilities, as reducing the footprint of affected land relative to traditional wells like those in Prudhoe Bay.

“We heard the same tired rhetoric: ‘We’re going to turn this into an industrial wasteland,' ‘We’re going to destroy this area;’ it belies the way we’re doing this,” Murkowski said. “Quite honestly, the technology we’re using today how we’re developing on Alaska’s North Slope is a world apart. If you look at the footprint of Prudhoe, 65 acres, look at what’s happening now in the new areas – whether it’s Alpine or Kuparuk or the Greater Moose’s Tooth area, we’re reducing the footprint.”

Gov. Bill Walker thanked the delegation for its efforts Wednesday, adding in a statement he was “pleased about that this means for Alaska’s resource future.”

“This has been an Alaskan pursuit for half a century, and today, Congress has finally unlocked the promise of utilizing these resources,” Walker said. “Moving forward, we will continue to dialogue with all Alaskans, and ensure that any potential development in the 1002 area takes into consideration Alaskan concerns previously expressed.”

The delegation has been “thinking strategically” about ANWR, Sullivan said, moving to not only get the bill passed but also to educate senior Interior Department officials on its effects. He mentioned former Alaska natural-resources commissioner Joe Balash, recently confirmed as an assistant secretary at Interior, as someone who “is going to be part of the solution here.”

Sullivan dismissed claims of big oil-industry money backing the ANWR push, saying the delegation faced millions of dollars spent against it by environmental groups and high-profile opposition from even the governor-general of Canada.

“This was a grassroots (effort),” Sullivan said. “It was the three of us and all the Alaskans who came to us.”

The Alaska Oil and Gas Association also issued a statement on the news, saying it “stands with the large majority of Alaskans” celebrating the vote.

“We appreciate the Alaska congressional delegation’s leadership on this effort, which offers incredible potential for Alaska jobs, revenue, and energy security,” said AOGA president Kara Moriarty. “While the process ahead is a long one, today’s development puts Alaska closer than ever to recognizing its full energy potential.”

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