WASHINGTON -- Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., renewed one of the oldest fights in Congress on Friday when he urged a House subcommittee to open up part of Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling.
For Hastings, who gets his largest campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry, ANWR is just the latest of many drilling opportunities he is pursuing.
On Wednesday, he called Interior Secretary Ken Salazar before his committee to challenge the Obama administration's five-year plan to limit offshore drilling.
Hastings also is opposing the Obama administration's efforts to protect a million acres of public land around Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona from new uranium mining during the next 20 years.
And last week, when the Obama administration proposed federal protection for the San Juan Islands and 17 other backcountry sites across the country, Hastings argued that such lands are designed for "multi-use purposes." For Hastings, that includes mineral development.
Environmental groups say that Hastings, the 70-year-old chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee from Pasco, is not doing enough to protect public land, but he has found plenty of backing from business groups and officials linked to the powerful oil and gas industry.
Hastings has received $38,250 from oil and gas interests this year, more than any other industry, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
His top campaign contributor is Edison Chouest Offshore, a Louisiana-based shipbuilding company that's building Shell Oil a huge icebreaker, a vessel larger than a football field that is intended to be used for oil exploration in the Arctic. The company's officials have given $22,500 to Hastings' 2012 re-election effort. One of them, Gary Chouest, is the company's president.
Exxon Mobil and the National Mining Association rank second and third in the chairman's fundraising this year, having donated $10,000 and $6,000, respectively.
On Friday, Hastings told the House Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee that his bill, introduced with Republican Rep. Don Young of Alaska, would open less than 3 percent of the Alaskan refuge to energy exploration. He described it as a jobs bill, not just an energy bill.
Hastings told his colleagues that it's "well past the time to open a small portion" of the refuge to energy production, calling it a good way to jumpstart the economy and put more Americans back to work.
"ANWR is the single greatest opportunity for new energy production on federal land, and it was specifically set aside for energy production by President Carter and Congress in 1980," Hastings said.
Environmental groups have long led efforts to resist drilling in the refuge.
At Friday's hearing, Pater Van Tuyn of the Alaska Wilderness League told panel members that almost a million people had submitted comments to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service asking that ANWR be kept off-limits from oil and gas development.
"The Arctic Refuge is a treasure owned by current and future generations of Americans, and it should not be plundered based on myopic and false claims that drilling it for oil will meaningfully contribute to our nation's current challenges," he said.
Hastings, a former owner of his family's paper and janitorial supply store in Pasco, has consistently called for more domestic energy production since becoming chairman of the committee in January.
Last week, he accused the administration of not doing enough to promote offshore drilling, saying the president was "denying access to American energy that would lessen our dependence on hostile Middle Eastern oil."
When Salazar suggested listing the San Juans and sites in eight other states as new wilderness and conservation areas, Hastings was quick to object.
He said that Congress "has the sole authority" to decide which lands should be designated as wilderness "and which should instead be allowed to contribute to the full range of recreational, conservation, economic and resource benefits that carefully managed multiple-use lands provide."
Besides, Hastings said, the country can't afford any more public land.
"The federal government already owns more lands than it can afford to properly manage," he said.