JUNEAU -- Tight energy supplies and Republican control of both Congress and the White House open a window of opportunity for aggressive development of Alaska's natural resources, Sen. Frank Murkowski told a joint session of the Legislature on Wednesday.
Murkowski painted a rosy picture of the state's near future, saying the November election ended a period of defending the state from an administration aligned with environmentalists who oppose oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, logging in the Tongass National Forest and other resource development.
''Now that America is teetering on the brink of an economic recession driven by higher energy prices and short supply, we have an opportunity, I think, now to go on the offensive,'' Murkowski said.
However, Murkowski warned of a tough fight ahead, particularly over ANWR.
''Make no mistake about it -- we are in for a titanic battle over ANWR,'' said Murkowski. ''The environmental lobby -- in their quest for a cause, membership and dollars -- is going to fight us each inch of the way.''
Environmental groups oppose oil development in ANWR, lauding the refuge as an untouched national treasure and fearing the impact of drilling on caribou and other wildlife.
Murkowski noted the GOP's slim margin in the U.S. House and the 50-50 tie in the Senate that gives Vice President Dick Cheney the deciding vote. After the speech, he told reporters that he estimates he's three votes short of a majority in the Senate for legislation opening ANWR to drilling. Such legislation passed Congress in recent years, but was vetoed by former President Clinton.
Murkowski said he plans to bring fence-riding lawmakers to Alaska and the refuge in the coming months in hopes of winning them over.
In his wide-ranging speech, Murkowski also touched on the biggest issue before lawmakers this year -- encouraging construction of a pipeline to bring the North Slope's vast reserves of gas to market. In recent weeks, some lawmakers and officials of Democratic Gov. Tony Knowles' administration have sparred over proposed routes for the pipeline.
Knowles is backing a pipeline along the Alaska Highway through Canada to energy-hungry markets in the Lower 48. Some lawmakers argue he's too quickly dismissing a liquefied natural gas project that would ship gas to Asian markets.
Murkowski touted a y-shaped pipeline, with one leg headed for the Lower 48 and the other to a liquefaction plant on Alaska's coastline. Tapping both markets could help the project pay for itself, Murkowski said.
''We should do more than simply build a pipeline to ship Alaska's gas Outside,'' Murkowski said. ''Any project should make new supplies of affordable natural gas available to Alaskans.''
But he also warned that the gas line isn't a done deal. The project could face opposition from environmentalists and competition from gas deposits closer to markets.
''Everybody's looking for gas at this price and you can't blame them,'' Murkowski said.
Murkowski also touted the Alaska delegation's successes over the past year, including:
n Beefed-up laws regulating the emissions of the booming cruise ship industry.
n Authorization of an electrical intertie in Southeast Alaska and federal deregulation of small hydroelectric plants.
n A new Arctic Energy Lab at the University of Alaska.
Near the end of the speech, he urged lawmakers and others in the state to back himself, Sen. Ted Stevens and Rep. Don Young, spelling out a series of requests, including:
n More Alaska Native support for ANWR development to counter the environmental lobby.
n A vigorous legal challenge by the state of the federal ban on logging and road construction in roadless areas of the Tongass and Chugach National Forests.
n Matching state money for transportation and infrastructure funding the delegation has already provided and expects to provide in the future.
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