President tries again for ANWR leases

Posted: Thursday, February 06, 2003

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Supporters of oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge are hoping the third try is the charm.

President Bush's annual budget proposal to Congress for the third time seeks to sell leases in Alaska's coastal plain and spend the money on alternative energy research.

In spring 2001, when Bush issued his first budget proposal for fiscal 2002 and beyond, he counted on $2.4 billion in ANWR revenues. Congressional budget committees did not follow his lead, and the same thing happened for the 2003 budget.

Bush's 2004 budget, released Monday, proposes exactly the same language.

The administration estimates the money will arrive in fiscal year 2005, though Congress has not yet approved drilling. Of the $2.4 billion, half would go to the state of Alaska and half to the federal government.

The federal half would be spent on alternative and renewable energy programs over seven years.

Although ANWR is managed by the Department of Interior, the language is tucked in the Department of Energy section of Bush's budget proposal.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said she was encouraged by the budget language.

''With the White House firmly behind the effort to open ANWR, I believe we are another step closer to making it a reality,'' she said.

Jim Waltman, Arctic refuge specialist for The Wilderness Society, said that counting on ANWR revenues in the budget is improper, given that Congress has not passed legislation to allow drilling.

Some in Congress are hoping to use the budget process to allow drilling. By counting on the revenues in the annual budget resolution used to set spending caps, ANWR-opening legislation could be included in a filibuster-proof reconciliation bill later in the year.

''I think there would be a huge backlash from the public if they tried to do this,'' Waltman said.

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