Key Republican drops support for refuge drilling

Posted: Thursday, March 23, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A key Republican in the U.S. Senate says he no longer supports oil exploration in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

New Hampshire Sen. Bob Smith, the new chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, revealed in a letter to environmentalists this week that he no longer supports ANWR development.

''After years of research on this issue, I have come to the conclusion that we should not allow oil exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge,'' Smith said in a letter to New Hampshire Citizens for Arctic Wilderness.

''And furthermore, it should be set aside in wilderness designation in perpetuity,'' Smith wrote.

Smith is a conservative who briefly dropped out of the Republican Party last year to campaign for president as an independent. He was later welcomed back into the party by Senate Republicans. He was made chairman of the environment committee after the sudden death last November of Rhode Island Sen. John Chafee. Chafee had long opposed drilling in the refuge.

In 1995 when the refuge was last before the Senate, Smith voted consistently with drilling advocates.

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