WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate on Thursday geared up to vote on an amendment that would block drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve, with opponents of the measure saying development would lead to jobs and wealth creation.
Conservationists covet the reserve, also known as ANWR, in northern Alaska, home to tribes that hunt and fish and also a habitat for sensitive wildlife including caribou, polar bears and hundreds of species of migratory birds.
Many Republican senators hope to open a portion of the reserve called the 1002 area. Senator Lisa Murkowski, the chair of the Senate energy committee and a Republican from Alaska, called this a "non wilderness area" because the federal government put it aside decades ago for petroleum exploration.
The budget instructs Murkowski's committee to raise $1 billion over 10 years and she hopes some of that could come from opening the 1002 area. She urged senators to see the "instruction as an opportunity to do something constructive" and focus on boosting energy output from federal lands to bring new wealth.
Senator Maria Cantwell, the top Democrat on the energy committee, introduced the amendment that would strike the instruction to raise the funds from energy production.
Republicans were attempting a "sneak attack" that would turn "public lands over to polluters", she said. Senator Jeff Merkley, another Democrat, has said there is "something cynical and sad" about the effort top open ANWR because it would boost oil output from the state feeling the fastest effects of climate change, which a majority of scientists link to carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels and development.
Democrats need a simple majority in the 100-member chamber to win. They hope that some Republicans, including Senators John McCain and Susan Collins, who have voted against drilling legislation in the past, will side with them.
(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by David Gregorio)