Alaska senators like Bush's energy pick

Posted: Wednesday, January 03, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Alaska Sens. Ted Stevens and Frank Murkowski said President-elect Bush's choice of Spencer Abraham for energy secretary will do good things for Alaska.

''He is a great selection,'' said Stevens, R-Alaska, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. ''I think we have a person with a different attitude.''

Alaska's senior senator said he visited Michigan to campaign for his Republican colleague during Abraham's unsuccessful run for re-election in November. Abraham lost narrowly to U.S. Rep. Debbie Stabenow, a Democrat.

Abraham's position favoring oil exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge cost him the election, Stevens said.

''It did him in,'' he said.

Bush completed his 14-member Cabinet on Tuesday by making three selections. In addition to Abraham, he chose Democrat Norman Y. Mineta as secretary of transportation and Linda Chavez for secretary of labor.

Bush, a former Texas oilman, has said opening the arctic refuge in Alaska's northeast corner to oil development would be a major part of his energy strategy. He has argued that drilling can be conducted without harming the refuge's ecosystem or wildlife. The Clinton administration has opposed drilling in the refuge.

The U.S. Geological Survey has estimated that the refuge's coastal plain may hold about 11 billion barrels of oil, about as much as the Prudhoe Bay field 50 miles to the west.

Murkowski, R-Alaska, also praised Bush's pick for energy.

''Sen. Spencer Abraham will make a great secretary of energy,'' said Murkowski, chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. In a statement, he praised Abraham for his ''ability to master tough problems and work for the energy security of this country.''

Murkowski has said enacting drilling legislation will be one of the first bills he will try to move in the next session of Congress.

Bush's selection of Abraham will not result in good energy policy, said Allen E. Smith, Alaska regional director for the Washington, D.C.-based Wilderness Society, which has lobbied hard against drilling in ANWR.

''It is impossible to drill your way out of a problem,'' Smith said. ''We should seek an energy policy that relies on conservation, efficiency, alternatives and renewables.''

The Sierra Club said Abraham has an ''abysmal'' environmental record.

''Picking Senator Abraham is a pathetic response to America's energy problems,'' Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope said in a statement.

The conservation group said Abraham cosponsored two bills that would allow drilling in ANWR and led the Senate's efforts to prevent the Clinton administration from increasing fuel economy in cars and light trucks.

Rumors had circulated that Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles, a Democrat who supports drilling in ANWR, would be tapped for the energy job. The governor never took the rumors seriously, said Knowles' spokesman Bob King.

''He's quite happy doing what he's doing,'' he said.

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