President Trump said he accomplished what no other Republican president since Ronald Reagan could do by opening up drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which he called a "big, big deal."
"Reagan tried to get it. Bush tried to get it. Everybody tried to get it. They couldn’t get it passed," Trump said in discussing the energy piece of major tax legislation before the House passed it Wednesday and sent to him for his signature.
After 40 years of failed attempts to open the Arctic reserve to drilling, "that just happens to be here," Trump said. "And we did that at the request of the two great senators from the state of Alaska, which is a very special place. But I will tell you, ANWR is a big, big deal."
The tax legislation opens up the 1002 section of the refuge to drilling, which Republicans argue is not a wilderness area and would not threaten the wildlife habitat there.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, author of the bill's energy measure and chairwoman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said drilling in the 1002 area could produce hundreds of billions of dollars for the nation's coffers as well as be a great source of jobs and wealth creation.
"So, we’re going to have tremendous energy coming out of that part of the world, and people have wanted to do it it for 40 years," Trump said.
The oil drilling potential of the Arctic refuge is "not ever mentioned by the press, until now," Trump said. "Now you can mention it."
The legislation outlines a plan to begin limited drilling operations within four years. Murkowski noted on the Senate floor Tuesday night that the bill calls for first producing $1.1 billion in revenue for the nation from production there, which could be amplified to tens and even hundreds of billions of dollars. The reserve has an estimated 10.4 billion barrels of oil.
Opening up the Arctic refuge "by itself would be a massive bill," Trump said. "It’ll be one of our biggest oil reserves. It’s one of the biggest in the world."
"It puts us at a level that we’re not even at now. And we’re doing very well all in terms of energy," he continued.
Meanwhile, Democrats are planning to make opening the refuge as difficult as possible by making sure the Trump administration conducts all necessary environmental reviews under the law.
Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington state, the top Democrat on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, vowed to do everything in her power, along with her colleagues in the Senate, to continue what they called the ongoing struggle to block drilling in the refuge.
Cantwell promised to “take the fight to the American people,” during a conference call Wednesday with fellow Democrats and conservationists to announce their strategy to combat the tax bill’s drilling measures.
Tuesday night’s vote in the Senate approving the measure was “disappointing,” but it “doesn’t mean this fight is over,” Cantwell said.
Democrats in Congress will fight drilling primarily through their “oversight role” to make sure Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke “does not skirt” his responsibility in conducting environmental reviews, as environmental and conservation groups plan to take the administration to court, Cantwell said.
Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., added that the vote was an “abomination” that will go to the courts and will play itself out in next year’s election.
He predicted that environmental issues will be central during the mid-term elections, where the issue of drilling in the Arctic will drive voters to oppose Republicans.