Snag in Bid to Open Arctic Refuge to Oil Drilling

WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Republicans may have hit a procedural snag in their bid to open Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. An arcane budget rule may hinder GOP efforts to include drilling in the tax overhaul legislation.

Senate Democrats objected to the provision opening a portion of the remote refuge to oil drilling, saying measures to fast-track environmental approvals violate a rule designed to limit budget legislation to provisions that are mainly fiscal in nature. Congressional aides say the Senate parliamentarian has signaled agreement with Democrats, which could force Republicans to secure 60 votes for drilling, instead of 50 needed for the tax bill.

While the drilling measure’s fate is unclear, stripping it from the tax bill would be a blow to Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski, chair of the Senate energy panel and a key drilling proponent.

Republican aides say the problem is fixable, but environmental groups were celebrating Wednesday. Tiernan Sittenfeld of the League of Conservation Voters said the procedural hiccup “is what happens when you cut corners and try to sneak drilling into an already terrible tax bill.”

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