The Arctic Cultural and Coastal Plain Protection Act is a bipartisan bill introduced by Jared Huffman (D CA), Brian Fitzpatrick (R PA) and nearly 100 other co-sponsors in the House on February 11, 2019. It would protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) from oil and gas drilling by repealing a provision inserted into the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 ("Tax Cuts Act") that mandated that the Department of Interior move forward with oil and gas leasing, development, and production in ANWR's Coastal Plain. The bill is drafted to delete that provision of the Tax Cuts Act.
Drilling had been banned in ANWR from 1980 until 2017, leaving the pristine area undisturbed. But congressional proponents of drilling in the Reserve used the Tax Cuts Act, a budget bill, to push their goal forward without having to overcome a Senate filibuster with 60 votes.
Progress toward oil exploration in ANWR is proceeding rapidly: On December 28, 2018, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issued a draft environmental impact statement (EIS) for leasing portions of the Coastal Plain for oil and gas drilling. The EIS took less than a year to draft, in keeping with a summer 2017 order from the Deputy Secretary of the Interior to streamline National Environmental Policy Act review within the Department.
Representative Huffman told Alaska Public Radio that he believes the Trump Administration is "in a hurry" to hold an initial lease sale, as it will be more difficult to close the Coastal Plain to drilling once oil companies already have a property stake in the refuge. This bill is an effort to stop, or at least shine a spotlight on, the process.
The bill has over 100 co-sponsors, and as a bipartisan piece of legislation may have traction in the House. However, it is very unlikely to pass the Republican Senate during the current Congress. Nonetheless, League of Conservation Voters President Gene Karpinski told Alaska Public Radio that he believes the bill will “sharpen the conversation” in Congress, and that he hopes it will become an election year issue in 2020.