It is a promising sign that the Bush administration has included a projected $1.2 billion in federal oil leasing revenue from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in its proposed 2004 budget.
The federal oil leasing revenue is part of the Department of the Interior's budget, just as it was last year. And it once again earmarks that money for the development of alternative energy sources.
It is an inclusion that points to the president's continued commitment to opening ANWR. However, as this is not the first time President Bush has included such a measure in his budget, it is clear that simply having it there is not enough to make it happen.
Interior Secretary Gale Norton said earlier this week that she is optimistic about the chances Congress will open ANWR to drilling. But optimism is not enough to get ANWR opened, either. Last year, after a promising start, a similar measure failed to pass both chambers.
Although Rep. Don Young's bill that would have opened drilling in the area overwhelmingly passed the House in August, momentum was lost when the Democrats gained a one-vote majority in the Senate, and the year ended without action.
The Senate is expected to take up an energy bill later this month. But Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., continues his opposition to opening ANWR, which will make the Senate an uphill battle, particularly during an election year.
Norton said that Republicans, led by the Bush administration, will be appealing to the traditional Democratic base of labor unions -- some of which largely favor opening ANWR because of the potential for job creation -- to help change the minds of key Democratic senators.
The economic and national security issues tied to increasing domestic oil production cannot be denied. Opening ANWR would create jobs -- although the debate rages over exactly how many -- reduce the country's growing dependence on foreign oil, and above all it would extend the life of the oil industry in Alaska.
True, ANWR will not single-handedly solve these issues, but it should be part of the solution. In the end, opening ANWR makes good sense for America and for Alaska.
-- Fairbanks Daily News-Miner
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