FAIRBANKS (AP) -- U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman has introduced legislation to designate the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge's coastal plain as official federal wilderness, but he acknowledged that his bill has little chance of passage.
''It would be good for America if it passed,'' the Connecticut Democrat said Wednesday. ''On the other hand, I'm not kidding myself. With the composition of the Senate today, that would take quite a lot of change in position.''
Lieberman's wilderness designation would prevent construction of roads and buildings in the 1.5-million-acre coastal plain. Such facilities would be necessary to extract the area's oil, which government estimates put at between 2 billion and 9.4 billion barrels at prices of $24 per barrel.
The focus this month is on whether to count on ANWR revenues in the annual budget resolution, which cannot be filibustered and thus requires only 51 yeas to pass in the 100-member Senate. Inclusion of the revenue expectation in the budget resolution would set the stage for ANWR-opening language in a later ''reconciliation'' bill-legislation that reconciles federal law with the budget resolution and which also cannot be filibustered.
Lieberman said he thinks that avenue can be blocked, but just barely. ''In the first vote that comes up on the budget, it's going to be close,'' he said.
Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wisc. and a co-sponsor of the wilderness bill, said Congress should face the issue with stand-alone legislation, not through a ''backdoor'' budget move.
''The coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is too important to become just a number in the budget process,'' he said.
Alaska senators Lisa Murkowski and Ted Stevens issued statements in opposition to Lieberman's measure.
''Proposing to lock up the coastal plain now when we need more energy is not just horribly shortsighted, it is dangerous to our economic and national well-being,'' Murkowski said.
Stevens said that former Democratic Sens. Scoop Jackson of Washington and Paul Tsongas of Massachusetts in 1980 committed to eventually allowing exploratory oil drilling in the coastal plain.
''It was accepted as part of a larger compromise that withdrew 104 million acres in Alaska for the federal government,'' Stevens said. ''Sen. Lieberman's bill seeks to reverse the promise made to me and all Alaskans.''
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