When a key House of Representatives panel took up a bill this week that would require annual lease sales and streamline permitting in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, home state Rep. Don Young missed the session.
He was on a big-game hunting safari in South Africa.
Aides said Thursday that Young, a 21st-term Fort Yukon Republican who is Alaska’s sole representative in the House, was hunting antelope when the Natural Resources Committee’s energy subcommittee met Wednesday to consider the legislation.
“He’s out of the country on a hunting trip that was scheduled over a year ago,” Mike Anderson, Young’s spokesman, told McClatchy.
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Young chose this week, Anderson said, because the House in past years has not been in session the week before Memorial Day, but that schedule was changed this year. Congress went on break Thursday and is scheduled to return to Washington on June 3.
Young is the only co-sponsor of a measure authored by Rep. Doc Hastings, a Pasco, Wash., Republican, to open up the 23.5 million-acre reserve to more drilling.
The House Natural Resources Committee approved a similar bill in 2011 largely along party lines – with Young, 23 other Republicans and four Democrats voting for it – but the full House didn’t hold a vote.
Opponents in past campaigns have criticized Young’s committee attendance and periodic missed House votes, but he has been re-elected 20 times since first coming to Washington in 1973.
The House Ethics Committee is investigating Young over allegations of accepting improper gifts, using campaign funds for personal purposes and lying to federal officials.
With Young absent from Wednesday’s hearing, three Alaskans testified in favor of the National Petroleum Reserve Alaska Act.
State Natural Resources Commissioner Dan Sullivan, a possible Republican opponent of U.S. Sen. Mark Begich next year, told lawmakers the U.S. Interior Department, which manages the NPR-A, impedes oil and natural gas development in the vast reserve.
Sullivan was joined by North Slope Borough Mayor Charlotte Brower and Richard Glenn, executive vice president of the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation.
As gas prices reached record highs two years ago, President Barack Obama announced plans to open the Alaska petroleum reserve to more drilling.
Begich praised Obama for that move, but the plans have not gained traction in the face of fierce opposition from environmental groups both in Alaska and elsewhere in the country.
Editors' note: This version of the story corrects an earlier headline to reflect that Rep. Don Young missed a subcommittee hearing, not a subcommittee vote.